Tribes: Eagle Delisting 'Violates Trust Responsibility'
Dine Bueau, Gallup Independent
WINDOW ROCK -- The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, consisting of 20 tribal governments, has come out in opposition to the proposed delisting of the desert-nesting bald eagle in Arizona, saying it would violate the federal government's trust responsibility and the quality of life of Indian peoples.
The National Congress of American Indians, the oldest and largest national organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments, passed a standing resolution in Albuquerque in November 2003, stating that tribal governments have not only the inherent and sovereign right but also the obligation to ensure the successful protection and recovery of these sacred birds among tribal lands.
The Inter Tribal Council recently passed its own resolution against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife's proposed delisting rule for the bald eagle. A final rule is expected by the end of this month.
Only 43 pairs of desert-nesting bald eagles now survive in Arizona. "Interestingly, 20 of those breeding pairs are on tribal lands. So that's almost half of the known population, and the tribes haven't been extensively consulted," said Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. The Hopi Tribe is a member of the Inter Tribal Council..
"Right now, there's a general, unilateral decision nationwide that once it's delisted, then the states will take over. The state of Arizona has already done what they call 'Assessment and Management Strategy.' But when you go into that document, there isn't much about how the state of Arizona proposes to interact with the tribes.
"So there are a number of reasons the Hopi Tribe will oppose the delisting -- some for political reasons and some for biological reasons," he said.
The Inter Tribal Council said the bald eagles in Arizona have a specia cultural and religious significance to all of the state's tribes, and their protection and continued survival is of the utmost importance.
"The desert nesting bald eagle is a necessary part of an irreplaceable role in the cultural and traditional ceremonies since time immemorial," the Council said.
"The tribes in Arizona are opposed to the overall delisting of the bald eagle and its removal from the protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act."
Removal of Arizona's tiny bald eagle population from the protections conferred by the Endangered Species Act would remove habitat protections fo the species, the Council said, thereby threatening the quality of the water in the few remaining desert rivers and also threatening stream flows, the integrity of the nest trees and vegetation adjacent to the rivers.
There is only one area currently remaining in Arizona that is habitat --the Verde River, particularly around Camp Verde, Kuwanwisiwma said.
"I think the contention right now with the delisting is really narrowed down to the state of Arizona and what the statistics and data, based on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife's own research, are telling us," he said.
"The Hopi position is that we are asking the U.S. Fish & Wildlife to maintain the status quo, or an exemption for the state of Arizona. But the only basis for an exemption is whether or not the bald eagle in Arizona is a distinct or separate species from the general population of bald eagles, and the Fish & Wildlife is saying it is not -- the birds in Arizona are the same nationwide," Kuwanwisiwma said.
Under the Endangered Species Act, the law states that any "threatened or endangered" decision has to be science- or biologically based.
"What the tribes are trying to say is, 'We haven't, first of all, been consulted to the extent we would like. And secondly, if we were consulted in the research, I think we probably could have contributed to the scientifi finding in terms of traditional practices, for example."
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said the best available scientific and commercial data indicate that the bald eagle has recovered. The eagle population in the lower 48 states has increased from approximately 487 active nests in 1963, to an estimated 7,066 breeding pairs today.
The National Congress of American Indians said efforts to restore and protect bald and golden eagle populations on tribal lands is of critical importance to American Indian and Alaska Native peoples and their heritage.
In 2003, NCAI requested that federal agencies vested with the responsibility of overseeing and managing such efforts provide funds and appropriations directly to tribal governments to support restoration and recovery efforts.
NCAI also endorsed the non-profit American Eagle Foundation headquartered in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., which has been involved in the care, recovery and protection of bald and golden eagles since it was organized in1985.
The Foundation established an American Eagle Fund to help preserve andprotect eagles and their habitats for the future. It also has sought partnerships with tribes to establish 'American Eagle Heritage Exhibits' to house bald and golden eagles which have been determined non-releasable due to injury.
TO SUBMIT an ARTICLE, OPINION PIECE, COMMENTS to the Native Unity Digest, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
NATIVE UNITY - A place for Native American Peoples to solidify their tribes to make a positive impact on the cultural, social, economic and political fabric of American society and a place for non-Natives to better understand the ways of the American Indian.
AIROS NATIVE NETWORK plays music, news and other great programs from Indian Country - www.airos.org
FOR NATIVE CELEBRITY NEWS - go to www.nativecelebs.com
Visit Vietnam Vet. LARRY MITCHELL at http://www.potawatomivet.com and click on his blog at the site.
NATIVE BIZ LEARNING CENTER - www.learn.nativebiz.com was developed for tribal education specialists serving tribal communities. Any tribal community can register at NO COST.
NAJA ALERTS, POTPOURRI - Every Tuesday when available.