BILLINGS, MT. – Indigenous activists have joined the growing crusade to restore federal protection for wolves throughout the Intermountain West.
As part of their broad campaign opposing plans by the states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana to drastically reduce their wolf populations, the Global Indigenous Council (GIC) released a short film entitled “Family” in early July.
Tribal leaders say that film, directed by indigenous documentarian Rain, “provides crucial insight into how wolves are foundational to indigenous cultures and how the Trump administration’s removal of federal protections from wolves severely undermines tribal cultures.”
Although members of the general public can access “Family” via YouTube, the film’s obvious target is Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, America’s first indigenous member of a presidential cabinet.
GIC leaders are depending on Haaland to encourage President Joe Biden to overrule a previous executive order by President Donald Trump by relisting the Gray Wolf on the Endangered Species Act.
In January, Biden issued a memorandum pledging to promote federal consultation and stronger nation-to-nation relationships with Native American tribes. In a recent interview, Biden also stated that he was in favor of protections for wolves.
After being exterminated in the early 20th Century, wolves were reintroduced into the West during the 1990s. Although that effort by wildlife experts was generally opposed by ranching and livestock industries, the wolves were protected by the federal mandates until recently.
The wolf population of Idaho is now estimated to 1,500 animals and recent legislation signed by Gov. Brad Little has allocated $600,000 to reduce that population by 90 percent.
Montana has enacted laws similar to those in Idaho, with the goal of reducing its wolf population by 85 percent. Wyoming is also allowing wolves to be hunted across most of the state.
Tribal leaders here in the West say that only prompt action by the Biden administration can prevent the wholesale slaughter of wolves throughout the Rocky Mountain region.
“What is happening to wolves is a social justice issue for indigenous people,” according to Crystal Lightning, an award-winning indigenous actress who is featured in “Family” and has previously appeared in the television series “Yellowstone.”
“The wolf has a vital role in so many of our cultures – in our clans, our songs and our ceremonies,” she added. “Yet our voices are ignored. Whenever the voices of any people are silenced, that is suppression. We are the first people of this land, but are always the last to be heard.”
GIC leaders contend that the wolf hunting laws recently passed in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are a “final solution” without a real problem because wolves account for less than 1 percent of all livestock losses in the United States and wolf attacks on humans are exceedingly rare.
“Family” is not the first activist documentary directed by Rain. The filmmaker’s previous credits include “Somebody’s Daughter” and “Say Her Name.” Both films expose the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women in the West, with the latter documentary focusing on Big Horn County in Montana as the epicenter of the emergency.
With regard to needed federal wildlife protections for wolves, the documentarian echoes Lightning’s comments.
“These wolf extermination bills were passed and signed into law by right-wing extremists at state level,” Rain argued. “Those laws demonstrate that they are not only hunting democracy to extinction, but also conflating Euro-Medieval sadism with so-called wildlife life management to the same ends with wolves.”
GIC officials say that more than 120 tribal leaders have signed onto a so-call Wolf Treaty that outlines a sustainable and culturally appropriate wolf management system. The treaty’s signatories are urging Haaland to incorporate its tenets in future national wildlife policies.
Members of the public can assess the documentary “Family” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZWmfMK6bfc
The Global Indigenous Council is a non-profit group that seeks to represent the interests of tribal nations throughout the world. Its stated purpose is to promote unity, reestablish ancient relationships, develop new alliances, exchange knowledge and find commonality in the shared purposes of indigenous people.