American Indians from around Nevada will gather in Carson City on Monday in support of legislation which would prohibit hunting of the state’s bears.
After critics failed to block the now two-year-old bear hunt by other means, they are now carrying the impassioned debate to the Nevada Legislature by backing a law that would make black bears a protected mammal and their hunting illegal.
Hunting of the bears is objectionable to American Indians on spiritual grounds, said Buck Sampson, a spiritual adviser and member of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony.
“It’s really offensive,” Sampson said. “Bears are just as important to us as the eagle is spiritually.”
Tribes throughout the state oppose the hunt, Sampson and others said.
The Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, which represents 27 Nevada tribes, has passed a resolution opposing the hunt and 11 tribal councils around the state also passed individual resolutions in opposition. Eight hundred Native Americans from the Washoe, Northern and Southern Paiute and Shoshone tribes have signed petitions against the hunt, representatives said.
“We consider these bears our relatives,” Sampson said. “Some tribes call them grandpa, some tribes call them auntie, some tribes call them brother. When we see one of these bears being shot it’s like shooting your mother, your father, your brother.”
Senate Bill 82 was introduced on the first day of the legislative session and referred to the Senate Natural Resources Committee. No hearings have yet been scheduled.
Chris Healy, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, had no comment on SB 82 but said department officials would be available to answer any questions by lawmakers while the bill is being discussed.
The bear hunt was approved by the Nevada Wildlife Commission in late 2010 using a system designed to provide significant public input, Healy said. Hunting occurred during two seasons in the summer and fall of 2011 and 2012, with a total of 25 bears killed.
“The system has worked very well over the years in managing wildlife,” Healy said. “It doesn’t guarantee you the answer you want but people are given plenty of opportunity to make their opinions known.”
American Indians, however, insist they have thus far spoken to deaf ears in opposing the hunt.
“We weren’t really heard,” said Raquel Arthur, president of the American Indian Movement of Northern Nevada and a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.
In addition to spiritual objections, tribal members oppose the hunt as a threat to public safety, Arthur said. Hunting in the Pine Nut Mountains and Sweetwater range — where most of the bears killed by hunters were taken — is taking place during the same time tribal members are harvesting pine nuts there, Arthur said.
“It’s just not something that should be done,” Arthur said, adding that the hunt’s opponents are “in this for the long haul.”
In support of SB 82, 20 to 50 tribal members will perform a “round dance” in front of the legislative building on Monday, Arthur said. Monday is Tribal Day at the Legislature.
Going to the Legislature to stop the bear hunt was a logical step after other efforts failed, said Christine Schwamberger, an attorney who is advising Native Americans regarding the legislation. Schwamberger previously worked with the nonprofit group NoBearHunt.NV.org, which opposed the hunt while it was being debated by the state wildlife commission.
NoBearHunt.NV is not behind SB 82, “but of course we support that bill,” said Kathryn Bricker, the group’s president.
“It’s the only way to stop the hunt,” Schwamberger said. “It was inevitable. It had to go to the Legislature. There was no other way.”