On Thursday, the Minnesota Senate Environment and Energy Committee could decide the fate of a bill (SF666) that would reinstate the five-year moratorium on wolf hunting that was disregarded last year. In the spirit of cooperation with Minnesota tribes, I urge our state senators to pass this bill.
The heated debate surrounding the wolf hunt in the western Great Lakes region boils down to this: Are wolves relatives or resources? How one answers this question shapes one’s ultimate stance on the recent state-sanctioned hunts in Minnesota and Wisconsin. One need not be American Indian to respect wolves as other-than-human persons.
For Ojibwe people, the wolf is a relative, and the Ojibwe are fighting to honor their responsibilities to wolves by opposing the hunt.
The Ojibwe view is not a mystical or teary-eyed appeal to a worn-out stereotype. Ojibwe philosophy and natural law clearly state that people have a shared destiny with wolves and are bound to them through a relationship of brotherhood. In other words, wolves and the Ojibwe people go “way back.”
Granted, without this intricate and deeply rooted relationship, it may be hard for some nonindigenous folks to share the view that wolves are relatives. Some may never have any intention to try. But ultimately, considering the sovereign status of American Indian nations, incorporating indigenous values into natural-resource management policy is both a matter of cultural relations and governmental relations. None of the state’s 11 federally recognized tribes were consulted about the 2012-2013 wolf season.
A state-sponsored wolf hunt is not a biological imperative. It is only one of many ways to approach the task known as “wolf management.” In Minnesota and Wisconsin, wolves are — technically speaking — a shared resource between tribal and state authorities, and, as such, management responsibilities must be shared. Despite many traditional American Indian views that by principle oppose the philosophical underpinning of “resource management” (the notion that humans have the authority to control the lives of other beings), it’s clear that tribes aren’t advocating for no management at all. Numerous Ojibwe people have voiced the opinion that selectively killing wolves that harm or threaten livestock is a tolerable alternative to an open season.
The issue at hand is what an organized hunt represents. Because wolves’ and Ojibwe people’s destinies are intertwined, state-sanctioned hunting seasons — in their symbolism and their literal threat to wolves’ lives — have direct implications for the health and well-being of Ojibwe people. The numerous Ojibwe bands that have declared their reservations to be wolf sanctuaries speak to the gravity that tribes ascribe to this situation.
Still, the official stance of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is that it is not within the department’s professional duties or responsibilities to consider “cultural arguments.” The problems with this position should be clear: 1) tribal governments represent sovereign nations, not cultural interest groups, and 2) the Minnesota DNR cannot claim objectivity or impartiality, because it fundamentally represents dominant cultural values that define wolves as “resources” rather than relatives.
Because viable alternative management approaches exist, the Minnesota DNR is overtly taking a cultural stance as long as it directs an organized wolf hunt.
Here in the United States, we have a long way to go in affirming and recognizing indigenous environmental perspectives in policy and in practice. When viewed beside recent policy victories in New Zealand, for example — that have declared, by way of indigenous Maori perspectives, a legal voice for the Whanganui River — Minnesota’s and Wisconsin’s actions toward wolves stand in stark contrast.
But while there’s much work to be done, we can still draw upon recent successes, such as the Red Lake Walleye Recovery Project, entailing a memorandum of understanding between the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe and the state of Minnesota in 1999 (renewed in 2010). These successes tell us that comanagement and cooperation between state and tribal resource-management agencies are not just possible, but necessary for the health and happiness of future generations of all Minnesotans. It would behoove our legislators and DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr to recognize and act on this.