Despite the obvious changes that come with the passing of time and the evolution of technology, the connection between buffalo, buffalo hunting and native peoples remains a vital part of tribal identity in Montana. The relationship between tribal people and buffalo is one that is both spiritual and distinct. The buffalo provided for the daily needs of our people for millennia. In return, tribes honor the buffalo in their commitment to sustainability and celebration of this incredible resource.
That’s why the native peoples of Montana have always watched the buffalo hunt near Yellowstone National Park so closely. And that is why we, as members of the Montana Indian Caucus, feel the need to express our deep concern about the recent hunting behavior exhibited by various tribal members from out-of-state tribal treaty hunters.
In this season alone, reports indicate multiple cases of waste, safety violations, ethically questionable activities and other actions by out-of-state tribal hunters that show a disregard for both buffalo and people who make their home in the Gardiner community. We recognize that mistakes do happen as some have been made in the past. However, we recognize that treaty hunt tribes have stepped up and properly corrected those actions.
The Montana Indian Caucus does not question the treaty rights of those tribes that exercise the right to hunt in the Yellowstone area. However, as servants of the people of Montana and representatives of Montana’s seven reservations, we do not accept the lack of accountability for these hunters’ actions, and we urge the tribes to take a hard look at the shadow these negative portrayals of buffalo hunting cast over all tribal hunters in Montana.
Unfortunately, the reports have added confusion and misinformation to the complex relationship between tribes and the state regarding buffalo. This narrative of disturbing behavior, which often does not distinguish between individual tribes, risks painting all of us with ugly brush strokes. That cannot stand. We ask the tribes involved in the recent incidents to properly discipline, if deemed necessary, those tribal members involved to maintain the respect for both people and buffalo of Montana and the greater Yellowstone area.
Many tribes in Montana are working to save the buffalo and rejuvenate herds on tribal lands, where they can be responsibly managed — culling as needed, hunting in accordance with tradition, and feeding our people. We hunt at the appropriate, culturally sanctioned times and in the appropriate manner, taking only what is needed and leaving no waste.
We do so because our culture and our lives are intertwined with the buffalo. We have a biological and spiritual connection with the buffalo and have learned to coexist with them. When buffalo fare well, we also prosper.
The Montana Indian Caucus agrees that recent negative reports are disturbing. They only serve to highlight the need to find solutions. This is what we believe is best for all of us – the state, the park, private landowners, the tribes and the buffalo.
Rep. Sharon Stewart Peregoy; Rep. Susan Webber; Rep. Bridget Smith; Rep. George Kipp; Rep. Rae Peppers; Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy; Rep. Shane Morigeau; Sen. Jason Small; Sen. Frank Smith; Sen. Lea Whitford.