Residents on White Earth are preparing for the Reservation's first ever White Earth Wolf Conference, as enrolled members there continue the fight for the right to ban wolf hunting on that land.
The gray wolves, which are sacred to Native Americans, were taken off the federal endangered or threatened species list last January after roughly 37 years of protection.
Although some legislators and many Native Americans fought for a five-year moratorium on wolf hunting, that never happened as the Minnesota DNR deemed the wolf population strong enough to withstand a hunting season and the majority of Minnesota legislators agreed. The wolf was being viewed as a game animal whose population should be controlled just like deer, and last fall it was open season on wolves in Minnesota.
"Governor Dayton could have stopped this with an executive order, but he didn't, and I think in Indian country there was a sense of betrayal," said Bob Shimek, an enrolled member of the White Earth Indian Reservation and an activist in preserving the wolves. "The wolves are our brothers...to shoot at them is like shooting at your brother."
Shimek says there are very few issues with wolves on the Reservation, and there isn't the same taught fear of the animal that there is off the Reservation.
Shimek and others tried to get the legislature to exclude the Reservation from the state-wide wolf hunt, but to no avail, as White Earth is an open Reservation, subjecting it to state laws.
Never the less, the Tribal Council on White
Earth joined the other Chippewa Tribes throughout the state in declaring the Reservation a "wolf sanctuary."
Violations were declared punishable offenses, although on
White Earth it was never quite defined as to what that would be.
Throughout the state, roughly 400 wolves were taken, but Shimek says aside from four disputed townships on the northeast part of the Reservation, he believes none of them were from White Earth.
But one relatively "safe" season isn't stopping Reservation leaders from pursing what they say is rightfully theirs anyway -- the right to manage wolves on Reservation land.
"We have a huge cultural collision here...a collision of values," said Shimek. "A collision of world view, and we need to build a better understanding with those around us on why this issue is so important to us and why we need to respect each other.
Shimek says he and other Reservation leaders are hoping this issue can be resolved through education and dialogue, but he also promises they won't stop at the word "no."
"We're not backing down on this," said Shimek. "We have the constitutional right to conserve on our land, and we will haul them (the state of Minnesota) into U.S. District Court if we have to."
The Wolf Conference is a way for tribal members fighting for this cause to build more of a support base and understanding of the issue.
Although its being held at the Tribal College in Mahnomen, the event is free and open to the public.
Speakers for the event include Eugene and Larry Stillday, who are members of the Red Lake Reservation, and have worked closely on the issue.
Larry Stillday says the sanctity of the wolves is so important to Native Americans, as the earliest stories begin with the "wolf-brother."
"And in the stories when the man and wolves separated and went their own ways, they were told that when one falls, they would both fall," said Stillday, "and so we've been given that responsibility as caretakers."
Stillday says most Native Americans are not afraid of wolves and are not worried about overpopulation.
"There is a system in nature that takes care of population and balances things out; man doesn't have to do it," said Stillday.
The White Earth Wolf Conference is being held at the White Earth Tribal and Community College on Thursday, Feb. 28, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tribal historians and wolf experts will be on hand to talk about the wolf's biology, politics and cultural importance.
Pre-registration is preferred by calling 218-935-0417 ext. 612 or 326.