Saving Ma'iingan: Why Michigan's Indian tribes want to block wolf hunt

Jimmie Mitchell keeps a screen saver on his computer, a photo of children he never knew in a place he’s never been.

It’s an image of students at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, a Pennsylvania boarding school founded in 1879 where American Indian children were sent to learn how to assimilate into a white world.

Mitchell — a member of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians tribe — said his aunts and uncles were among the thousands of Indian children who were taken from their parents over a 40-year period and placed in boarding schools such as Carlisle. There, the children were forced to forget their language, their culture and even their native names.

“It breaks my heart,” said Mitchell, who heads his tribal government’s natural resources department. “My uncle is still alive. When I try to speak to him in our language, he says, ‘I understand everything you’re saying to me. But I can’t, the words get stuck in my throat.’ ”

It would take nearly a century — until the 1978 passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act — for native culture to enjoy a widespread resurgence, Mitchell said.

“You could be proud to be an Indian again,” he said, “rather than feeling like a second-class citizen or not even human at all.”

That long-fought pride is why he and members of other Michigan American Indian tribes are increasingly nervous about what’s happening to another important piece of their heritage and culture — the Great Lakes gray wolf.

Indian tribes are among the most vocal opponents of a proposed hunting season for wolves in Michigan. They’ve joined the Humane Society and other wildlife advocates in a petition drive to try to put the issue on a statewide ballot in 2014 and to block legislation passed in December last year that classified wolves as a game species.

The Keep Michigan Wolves Protected campaign hopes to gather 225,000 signatures by March 27. To date, they’ve gathered nearly 200,000.

Proponents of a wolf hunt say the animals have thrived well beyond the original population goal of 200 when they were placed on the endangered species list in 1973. With 700 to 1,000 wolves in Michigan today, Upper Peninsula residents say wolves are coming too close to homes and towns and are attacking livestock.

Wolf advocates, however, say the wolf population in Michigan is still too fragile to be hunted. It’s been just over one year since the animals were removed from the federal endangered species list, said Jill Fritz, Michigan director of the Humane Society of the United States. She said the animals have not had enough time to maintain and thrive outside federal protection.

For Indians, the issue goes much deeper.

Back to creation

In the beginning of time, the Creator made Anishinaabe, the original man, and his brother Ma’iingan, the wolf. Together, they walked the Earth naming all of the other creatures on the planet.

There came a time when the Creator said the two must live apart but warned that whatever happened to one would happen to the other. To this day, the wolf howls in mourning for the loss of his friend, Anishinaabe.

The connection between animal and man, environment and the human condition, are prevelent in nearly all indigenous creation stories.

For Michigan’s native populations, however, the wolf is a central player in not only their past, but also their future, said Aaron Payment, chairman of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

There is a direct parallel, Payment says, between the eradication of wolves from Michigan and the decline of its native populations.

Though wolves once roamed every section of Michigan, they were all but wiped out in the Lower Peninsula and only a handful remained in the U.P. by the early part of the 20th century because of aggressive, systematic hunting by white settlers.

At the same time, Michigan’s native people became impoverished as they were moved off their land, their population a fraction of what it had been at the time Europeans arrived.

They can never let it happen again, Mitchell said.

“We are so connected to our environment,” he said. “Those plants and animals are a part of who we are, a cultural dimension of how we exist. Having them around us, our culture will flourish. When they are absent, our culture falls into impoverishment.”

Legal remedies

Tribal leaders say they have more than a cultural stake in the wolf, however.

They also believe the state has a legal obligation to give Michigan’s tribes an equal say in the management of the wolf and other wildlife species because of a treaty signed in 1836.

The Treaty of Washington was an agreement between the Ottawa and Chippewa nations and the United States in which the Indians agreed to cede 13 million acres of tribal land to the U.S. government — a move that paved the way for Michigan to become a state in 1837.

In return, Indians were granted unlimited hunting, gathering and fishing rights to the land.

In 2007, the treaty was strengthened in a court-mandated consent decree between the Department of Natural Resources and the tribes. The agreement requires the DNR to manage the state’s natural resources based on “sound scientific management” and to coordinate their efforts with the tribes.

Payment said the state is not living up to that mandate with the wolf issue. It’s not enough, he said, that tribal leaders have been invited to speak at public hearings before the Legislature or the Natural Resources Commission.

Further, he said the DNR has not provided adequate scientific evidence that Michigan cannot sustain the current wolf population without human conflict.

“What is the biological basis for a hunt,” he asked.

Still in talks

State officials hope to answer that question and more in the next few months through a series of public hearings and meetings with tribal leaders. DNR officials are in Marquette this week meeting with representatives of Michigan’s 12 Indian tribes.

DNR tribal coordinator Dennis Knapp said they’re doing everything required of them by not only the 2007 consent decree, but also a 2002 Tribal-State Accord, which requires each side to work together on issues that would significantly impact either government.

Since the wolf hunt is still in the idea stage — no decision has been made or even officially proposed for action by the Natural Resources Commission — the state has not violated the terms of the consent decree, Knapp said.

“The process is not at the point where a proposal is on the table,” he said. “So we’re consulting without specifics at this point. But we are inviting all Michigan tribes for consultation.”

Knapp added that tribes were also represented in a roundtable that crafted the state’s current Wolf Management Plan and signed off on the plan’s call for a wolf hunt should the need arise.

The Wolf Management Plan calls for two hunting options — a statewide recreational hunt like a deer season or a small hunt designed to help specific regions deal with wolves that are causing problems.

It’s the second type of hunt that’s being considered by the state’s Natural Resources Commission.

That’s not much comfort to tribal leaders.

“Whatever befalls one will befall the other,” said Mitchell. “There is a correlation. As the tribes began to heal, the wolf began to heal. Do we risk the possibility of the population being hunted beyond sustainability and lose them again?”

Responses to "Saving the wolves: Michigan Indians fight wolf hunt"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Please save these beautiful animals for our children's children to see.
    This hunting should BE STOPPED.

  2. Anonymous says:

    i am so unhappy to read this. Please let us not allow the wolf to be hunted.

  3. Anonymous says:

    We NEED to learn to respect , cherish and understand these beautiful animals , give them the dignity and freedom they deserve to share their lands with all creatures x Respect ,LOVE & lIGHt x

  4. Anonymous says:

    In the beginning they and all of the creatures ran free, and hunted freely. But just like many other things they were not understood, and have been all but stamped out. When I see a wolf in the wild my heart soars, and I feel freedom!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Protecting the wolf is the right thing to do not just for the Nativie Amerticans but for all humans. We are linked to them in so many ways, we can learn so much from them about family, community, survival, etc. They are not just animals, they are not a cash crop to be MANAGED by humans. They are dignified and have a right to live in peace. if they come into contact with humans, it is more likely to be that the humans have encroached onto their lands! rather than the other way around.
    Please dont hunt them!

  6. Anonymous says:

    "The Keep Michigan Wolves Protected campaign hopes to gather 225,000 signatures by March 27. To date, they’ve gathered nearly 200,000. Where does one sign?"

  7. Andrea says:

    Here is the event page. Find a place near you!! It is updated daily[]=&limit=100&radius_u

  8. kathleen says:

    Where can we sign the petition?

  9. Anonymous says:

    The whole of this item makes me feel shame.I am an elderly English woman and am aware that maybe some of my ancestors were guilty of the crimes against Native Americans.So many wrongs have never been put right and the USA government should start righting these wrongs now.Respecting the Native American ways would be a start.The earth can only stand so much take,take,take.America is huge,there must be plenty of room for both animals and humans.Native Americans should feel immense pride in their birth right,it's a privilege.

  10. Morgana says:

    Please unite your voices, all tribes of Miscigan, to save these magnificent animals named WOLVES. They MUST continue to live because their destiny is tightly connected with yours, ours, everyones on Earth.

  11. Morgana says:

    A magnificent survey. Thank you all.

  12. Anonymous says:

    These magnificaent animals have a right to live and should not be hunted.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Wolves were the first and most loyal of Man's companions. Even today, their descendants, dogs, are called "Man's Best Friend". When did we forget that our best friends came from these incredible and powerfully beautiful animals. Whould you kill your best friend's mother because she yelled at you? No. Neither should we risk destoying this creature, which is just beginning to come back from disappearing completely. If one wolf is causing a problem, then handle that one wolf, not the entire species.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Save the wolves. They don't deserve to die

  15. Anonymous says:

    I live with and care for a wolf as if he were my own child. Reading these stories of wolves being hunted saddens and sickens me as it does reading of human children being murdered by madmen. They are the same to me.

    And to the kind elderly British Lady who commented earlier I would like to say thank you for your kind words. My family and I are of Cherokee, Shawnee and Ojibwa descent and yes, we are very proud. You should not take blame for anyone. My Cherokee (Tsalagi) ancestors at one time joined the British Army!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Some more white man stupidity . Its all about trophy hunting wich should be banned. FOREVER

  17. Unknown says:

    I pray to the Creator to keep them safe and let them run free. To protect them from human harm and that their spirits soar and enrich those that keep them in their hearts.

  18. i am part Chippewa and i was born and raze in Michigan for a long time until 6 year ago i move out of state for health reason . but i loved going up north to the UP camping with my family to just to get out of the city life and to hear the wolf howl at night at the camp fire . they need to leave the wolves all alone they are a beautiful in the wild not be KILLED it make me sad to read all this ..... trapping and hunting should be band for wolves forever .....

  19. moon star says:

    i have seen and read about the native american children who were taken and put in white schools. they had left, with the clothes of their tribes, a month later they were photographed and they were dressed as little white girs. i know that they could not speak their own language, or talk about their old life. the people could not enjoy their rituals, dances. isn't it odd that the native american language won our war in the pacific, no matter what anyone else says, if not for the wind talkers, any other code would have been broken. now, we are attacking an animal who walked and ran the ancient americas, i can't understand either of these things. there are people who have to control things that are noble, and beyond their small existance. they are torturing and slaughtering, and driving these beautiful creatures out of their native surroundings, just as happened to the native americans. i feel shame and humility when i think of either. how did the wolf become a "game" animal, and a
    "trophy" animal. big money is buying it's way into the political world again. all we have is our voices , as loud as we can to save our wolves.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Don´t you have a petition to sign???

  21. Anonymous says:

    They will find an excuse to hunt wolves because its about money. People who kill wolves for sport and pay money for that are sick people!

  22. Anonymous says:

    In Yellow Stone National Park without the wolves the grasses had changed, and not for the good of the other animals. They brought the wolves back and grasses had just started to change back to what they were supposed to be in Yellow Stone. Now there are being hunted again in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. My point, I had never thought about grasses needing to be maintained in the meadows and valleys of the mountains.
    One lady interviewed in Montana has a sheep ranch. She told her husband if raising sheep made it so other animals, the wolves, had to be killed she did not want to do it anymore. They had ecologist come to their ranch and string up long ribbons that blew in the wind. This solution keeps the wolves away from their herds. There are other ranchers also trying to find alternatives to killing wolves. Wish everyone would.
    They are very important in maintaining the balance. Native Americans already know this but now it is backed by scientific proof the studies of wolves released in Yellow Stone have provided.
    I hope if there is one more treaty violation with Native Americans that it goes to the World Court. If cases against American Corporations were settled in favor of South American countries, why can't that happen for Native American Nations in the United States?


  23. Anonymous says:

    What if the tables were turned and wolves started killing humans because the population was to large or supporting ourselves was reason to be shot on sight? When will mankind (for lack of a better term) stop being judge and jury for all of God's creations? Haven't humans driven enough life, animals, plants, etc into extinction?

  24. Anonymous says:

    If u want to get technical...the animal that is the most over populated is Man. We devistate the land and distroy habitats then blame our animal neighbors for invading our space. Man is the only animal on this planet that does not contribute to the natural order. The wolf takes only what he needs to survive. He doesn't pollute or kill his neighbor cause he's a different color or religion. He helps keep ballance as does the deer and the rabbit and hawk. What changed in us to drive us to destroy everything we touch. What will it take for use to wake up

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