The Future of Badger-Two Medicine and Blackfeet Tribe

Scarface Mountain, Badger-Two Medicine Rocky Mountain Front, Montana, Photo George Wuerthner 

A recent article in the Missoulian described efforts by conservationists and some tribal members to stop oil drilling­ in the Badger-Two Medicine roadless area by the oil company Solenex. This Louisiana company holds leases for oil drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine Roadless area on the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forrest near Glacier National Park, Montana.

The article, like many seen today, represents the common mythology that tribal people are usually pro-environment and hostile toward resource extraction. While there are certainly members of the Blackfeet tribe who oppose any development of the Badger-Two Medicine area, that doesn’t necessarily translate into support for protecting the area from resource exploitation.

In many instances, it is not about protecting the Earth, but more about who gets the spoils of exploitation.

An excellent overview of this conflict is the essay Green Post Modernism and the Highjacking of Conservation by Harvey Locke that appears in my book Keeping the Wild: Against the Domestication of the Earth.


When I discuss Indian issues, some people accuse me of ignoring the many positive things that tribal people support. I am not purposely ignoring them  but I don’t feel I need to repeat  the numerous articles and examples online that promote these positions, even when they are inaccurate portrayals of the situation.

I recognize that tribes have sometimes held environmentally beneficial policies. Support for the restoration of salmon in the Upper Snake River by the Nez Perce tribe, the reintroduction of condors by the Yurok tribe, tribal support for a national monument in Nevada and the endorsement of wolf restoration in the Midwest by various tribes are all examples of such positions.

I acknowledge that not all Indians or individual tribes hold the same values. For example, some tribes and individuals support western conservation strategies like national parks and wilderness areas. Others are more embedded in global capitalism and seek to maximize financial returns by resource exploitation if opportunities arise, and the Blackfeet are no exception.

Oil development pads on Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation Utah. Photo George Wuerthner 

While the focus here is on the Blackfeet and the promotion by the media and conservation organizations common perception of tribal people are always environmentally oriented. The reality is that there is a diversity of views about resource extraction, with many tribal members and tribes supportive of resource development among other tribes, not just among the Blackfeet.


The Badger-Two Medicine controversy is emblematic of a growing effort to involve tribes in public lands management or even outright transfer of ownership of public resources known as the Land Back movement.

For instance, Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland has directed all federal agencies under her jurisdiction (national parks, BLM and FWS) to find ways to incorporate tribal co-management into public lands decisions. I believe such policies are a threat to America’s public land heritage and may add to greater resource exploitation and ecological damage.  Chuck Sams, Director of the National Park Service, is promoting tribal co-management of national parks.

The debate about the future of the Badger-Two Medicine and Blackfeet control must be seen in this light since in many ways it exemplifies this larger discussion of the future of public lands.

I hasten to add these public lands are home to many other species that depend on them for their existence. We have an obligation to secure the best protection available.


The Missoulian news article starts with the assertion, “a group of tribal and environmental groups continues to fight to prevent energy exploration in a mountainous Montana landscape sacred to the Blackfeet people.”

View from Elk Calf Mountain, Badger Two Medicine, Helena Lewis and Clark NF, Montana  Photo George Wuerthner-

The Badger area may be “sacred” to some tribal members, but not all. Indeed, for instance, the tribe has continuously opposed wilderness designation for the Badger-Two Medicine area, a designation that would provide the most robust protection to the land. One has to wonder why the tribe would oppose a federal designation that would give the most comprehensive protection for “sacred lands.”


In order to comprehend the issues surrounding the Badger Two Medicine, it is critical to understand that many members of Blackfeet tribe as well as other tribal people are not necessarily opposed to oil development. Many tribes have complained that the BIA hinders oil development on tribal lands. Oil development on the reservation began in the Switcurrent Valley in 1902 (before the creation of Glacier National Park), and by 1906 there were six producing wells.

While the focus of most media is on the tribe’s presumed opposition to oil development on Forest Service lands (i.e., public lands) in the Badger-Two Medicine, the tribe has not displayed a similar resistance to oil exploration on the grounds it controls on the reservation.

The reservation is part of the Overthrust Belt, a well-known oil and gas-producing formation that is part of the larger oil-producing region along the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada. It is also the western edge of the same oil-bearing Bakken Shale formation of the Williston Basin of North Dakota, where fracking has led to significant oil development.

Chief Mountain, considered sacred by some tribal members, was nevertheless leased for oil exploration by the tribe. Photo George Wuerthner 

Over the years, the tribe has leased portions of the reservation for oil exploration. In 2012 it leased hundreds of thousands of acres of the reservation for oil and gas development, including “sacred” sites like Chief Mountain on the border of Glacier National Park. However, for whatever reason not disclosed, the company canceled further oil development on 600,000 acres lease held by the Anschutz  Exploration energy company in 2013. Other leases include 156,000 acres of the reservation by Newfield Exploration in 2009 and Rosetta Resources, which in 2008 leased 286,000 acres of the reservation. According to one estimate, 97% of the reservation was at one time leased for exploration.

Drill rig on Blackfeet Reservation with peaks of Glacier NP beyond. Photo Tony Bynum

You can read an arguably a pro oil development account of tribal resource extraction across the West here.

The Missoulian article failed to mention that in 2020 after numerous meetings with tribal members, a variety of conservation organizations, including the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, and Montana Wilderness Association (Wild Montana), among other groups, reached a compromise with the tribe that would not designate the area as wilderness but would preclude most development.

However, it also gave the tribe greater control over these federal lands. It would also grant the tribe authority to allow or deny uses of the place designated by the tribe as culturally significant.

The tribe publicly endorsed the legislation.

The legislation was also officially supported in 2019 by the  National American Indian Congress, the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, the Blackfoot Confederacy, the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, and the Blackfeet tribal council approved the legislation in a resolution published in April 2020.

Senator John Tester introduced the legislation. It would have designated 127,000 acres in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest as the Badger-Two Medicine Cultural Heritage Area. The bill would have allowed current activities like livestock grazing to continue, but it would have banmed ATVs and mountain bikes and precluded future roads that could make oil and gas development impossible.

South Fork Two Medicine River, Badger Two Medicine Rocky Mountain Front, Helena Lewis and Clark NF Montana. Photo George Wuerthner 

Things appeared to be on a roll towards finally protecting the Badger-Two Medicine from oil development to some degree. No roads. No oil wells.

However, when Senator Tester held hearings on the legislation in Washington, DC, he was embarrassed and surprised when tribal representatives showed up and expressed opposition to the bill.

You didn’t hear much about this tribal rejection of the legislation that they had previously endorsed from any of the groups that had sought to gain protection for the Badger-Two Medicine because it would have put a hole in the myth that the Blackfeet wanted to protect the area.

Why would the tribe oppose legislation protecting the “sacredness” of the Badger-Two Medicine and giving the tribe significant control over these public lands? The answer is not well advertised by groups promoting the tribe as an environmental ally, but, “Blackfeet Chairman Harry Barnes told The Associated Press, “We want total return to Blackfeet ownership.”

Horses graze on the Blackfeet Reservation near East Glacier, Montana. Photo George Wuerthner 

This aspect of the land use controversy harkens back an 1895 agreement between the tribe and the federal government. The tribe sold part of its reservation to the federal government, including what we now call the Badger-Two Medicine and Glacier National Park. Tribal leaders and their supporters suggest that the tribe was “hoodwinked” into selling the land, which is a long and controversial debate. You can read more about this history here.

First, it is crucial to understand that when the tribe sold these lands, including what is now the Badger-Two Medicine area, tribal members approved of the agreement overwhelmingly  10-1.

With the cultural acquisition of the horse sometime in the late 1700s, the Blackfeet adopted a mobile lifestyle based on buffalo hunting and raiding. Carl Brodmer painting. 

From the tribe’s perspective at the time, the mountainous portion of their reservation had little value. Since the 18th Century the Blackfeet were horse people. The mountains held little in the way of grasslands to support large horse herds (as well as cattle which the tribe was beginning to run on the reservation). They occasionally hunted in the area (though game animals were far more abundant on the plains), and they may have obtained teepee poles (even though these were also available on other reservation lands).

As James Schultz, who married a Blackfeet woman and lived among the tribe for years, explained, tribal members were reluctant to travel in the mountains because “they would not hunt that which they could not ride to or near.” He even quoted his wife who claimed that “Ghosts live in these long, wide, dark woods.”

In other words, the tribe’s use of the mountain areas was limited compared to what they could obtain on the plains. They hadn’t named many features; it took a railroad promoter to convince some tribal members to make up feature names that could be used in attracting tourist to ride the rails to the national park.

Today it is popular to portray that these lands were “stolen” partly because, using today’s standards, society now considers that scenery in Glacier National Park is almost beyond value. However, in 1895 the Badger Two Medicine area was land that was of little use to the tribe.

As Little Dog said in support of selling the western strip of the reservation: “The mountains will never disappear. We will see them as long as we live. Our children will see them all their lives, and when we are all dead, they will still be there…Those mountains will last forever. The money will not.

I’ll says more of this later.


In all the legislation and most media reports, the assertion is made that the Blackfeet have lived adjacent to the Badger-Two Medicine since “time immemorial.” Even environmental organizations like Wild Montana repeat this myth. Yet it is easy to verify that the tribe is a recent colonizer of Montana and may have only permanently resided in what is now the state after 1800, hardly since time immemorial.

Of course, no definition of “time immemorial” is ever given, nor is this assertion questioned. But if tribal memory includes the oral tradition, the migration from the Great Lakes region is in time immemorial.

And these human centric claims ignore the fact that these lands were the “homeland” of the wolf, grizzly, bull trout, elk, moose, wolverine, marten and many other species long before any humans colonized the region.

The Blackfeet claim that Badger-Two Medicine is a sacred place, the backbone of the world, and where the tribe was created. This assertion has been repeated, apparently without any willingness to assess the accuracy or the recent origins of the oral history claim.

Some scholars believe they have no aboriginal claim to the land because history (the kind written down) does not support the tribal assertions of a long association with the area.

Blackfeet dancer. Photo George Wuerthner 

The Blackfeet are an Algonquin-speaking tribe who originated on the eastern seaboard of Canada and gradually moved West over centuries. They were woodland people living somewhere near the Great Lakes around the time when the first Europeans were exploring the upper Midwest.

Records by the Hudson Bay Company show the Blackfeet were living south of the North Saskatchewan River on the prairies of Saskatchewan during the 1750s. With guns and ammunition obtained in trade, the Blackfeet continued to move westward and eventually ran up against the Rocky Mountains.

Trader David Thompson spent the winter of 1787 with the tribe on the upper Saskenwan River near Red Deer, Alberta, in the Rockies’ foothills, east of Banff National Park today. In the words of Thompson, the Blackfeet…by right of conquest have their west boundary to the foot of the Rocky Mountains, southward to the north branches of the Missouri, eastward for about three hundred miles from the mountains and northward to the upper part of the Saskatchewan.


Once the Blackfeet obtained the horse in the late 1700s, they began to terrorize and occupy the territory of other tribes who did not yet possess guns. For instance, the area that is now the Blackfeet Reservation was once occupied by the Salish Kootenai people, who were pushed west of the Continental Divide onto lands;, they now occupy as part of the Flathead Indian Reservation. The Blackfeet also drove the Shoshone people who had recently moved into what is now Montana back south (from whence they came) into what is now southern Idaho; and the Apsaalooke people of what became the Crow tribe drove the Shoshone west of the Continental Divide, off the plains and mountains of south-central Montana.

For this reason, some Flathead tribal members contest the idea that the Blackfeet should be given exclusive control of the Badger-Two Medicine. In their view, these lands were “stolen” by the Blackfeet.

By the early 1800s, with the horse  (often stolen from other tribes), the Blackfeet controlled much of the Great Plains in Montana and were a scourge to both other tribes who feared them and white fur traders and trappers.

Map showing the relative territories of various Montana tribes in 1855 including “common hunting grounds (tan). The Blackfeet and Gros Ventre territories are purple. 

In 1855 the Blackfeet, along with other tribes, assembled to negotiate a treaty signed by the tribe and Isaac Stevens, who represented the U.S. Government in treaty negotiations. As was common to most treaties of the era, the federal government sought to stop the intertribal warfare that was among the significant sources of mortality for Indian people.

The second article in that Treaty proclaimed” The aforesaid nations and tribes of Indians, parties to this Treaty, do hereby jointly and severally covenant that peaceful relations shall likewise be maintained among themselves in future; and that they will abstain from all hostilities whatsoever against each other, and cultivate mutual good-will and friendship. And the nations and tribes aforesaid to furthermore jointly and severally covenant, that peaceful relations shall be maintained with and that they will abstain from all hostilities whatsoever, excepting in self-defense, against the following-named nations and tribes of Indians, to wit: the Crows, Assineboins, Crees, Snakes, Blackfeet, Sans Arcs, and Aunce-pa-pas bands of Sioux, and all other neighboring nations and tribes of Indians.”

The Treaty also recognized a common hunting ground on a portion of central Montana. Additionally, the tribe would permit the U.S. government to build roads, railroads, and structures within the Blackfeet’s claimed territories.

The idea that these lands were “stolen” is erroneous. In return, the tribe received compensation through annual financial payments and funds to help the tribe in medical and agricultural pursuits.

Some may argue that the compensation was insufficient, considering what the tribe had to concede. Still, in nearly all these negotiations, tribes did receive reimbursement for lands that, as in the case of the Blackfeet, they had taken from other tribes just a few decades earlier.

That said, the Treaty did grant recognition to the Blackfeet that they controlled much of what is now northern and central Montana along the Upper Missouri River to the Rocky Mountain Front by right of conquest.

After 1871 no new treaties with tribes were permitted, but new agreements were implemented that changed specific parts of past treaties. In 1887, with the buffalo herds almost gone (for which the Blackfeet hide hunting was a major factor in the demise), a new agreement further reduced the reservation to its current size of 1.7 million acres, for which the tribe did receive compensation to help transition from a mobile buffalo hunting people to more settled existence.

In 1895, a new agreement to sell what is now the western portion of the reservation and is now part of the lands within the Badger-Two Medicine and Glacier National Park was approved by the tribe. In payment for those lands or in the draft agreement, the tribe received $1.5 million annually over ten years ($15 million total).

However, according to the agreement, the tribal members retained certain rights to hunt and fish, cut wood, and gather other vegetation. There was debate within the tribe whether the sale price was adequate, but eventually, the tribal members settled for $15 million (more than half a billion in today’s dollars).

Sunrise at St. Mary’s Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana. Photo George Wuerthner 

When established as a national park in 1910, Glacier, as in the case of all national parks at that time, prohibited hunting and logging , and this led the tribe to argue their “rights” were violated. However, it is essential to note that the mountains of Glacier were not the primary hunting area for the tribe, which found wildlife far more abundant on the Great Plains portion of their reservation. Subsequent legal challenges held up the right of the federal government to ban hunting and logging in the park.

I will not go into all the controversy and subsequent lawsuits over the transfer of the western portion of the reservation to the federal government except to note that the tribe sued in 1925 over the loss of rights (such as hunting in what is now Glacier National Park). In that lawsuit, they did not claim “ownership” of the lands that now make up Glacier N.P. but merely wanted compensation for the loss of perceived rights.

The tribe eventually lost this bid for compensation, but there has been poaching on the fringes of Glacier National Park up to the present. A test case involved four Blackfeet tribal members in 1932 who were arrested for hunting in Glacier N.P. They argued they were exercising treaty rights due to the 1895 agreement. However, they lost in court.

Autumn along South Fork Two Medicine River frames peaks of Glacier National Park, Montana. Photo George Wuerthner

Nevertheless, the issue has simmered for decades. To avoid antagonism of the tribe, I am told by Glacier Park employees that park service rangers are advised not to report or arrest violators. The tribal lands adjacent to Glacier National Park contain some of the best wildlife habitat in Montana but seem empty of life. This lack of abundant wildlife may partly be due to past and on-going hunting.

The tribe has implemented game regulations, which has definitely improved wildlife surival in the reservation though many believe, given the fabalous wildlife habitat on the reservation, wildlife numbers could be higher with better enforcement.


The Badger-Two Medicine Protection Act introduced by Senator John Tester failed to make it out of committee because of tribal opposition to the legislative language which the tribe had previously endorsed. The Tribal Business Council had an election, and the new members pulled their support for the bill.

The tribal representatives decided that the national forest lands in the Badger-Two Medicine land should be transferred to the tribe. This is one of numerous efforts to rationalize the transfer of public lands to tribes, which is a form of privatization.

The Missoulian article is not unique in glossing over the diversity of opinion among tribal peoples. Another example is a recent paper on “Re-Indigenizing Yellowstone,” which calls for Indian co-management and hunting in Yellowstone National Park. The movement has a lot of support among some environmental organizations and foundations, but they are often not open about their support. But about twenty-five tribes have formally claimed rights to Yellowstone and another twenty-five have also expressed claims.


Lee Creek, Badger Two Medicine Rocky Mountain Front, Montana. Photo George Wuerthner

The situation in the Badger-Two Medicine is part of a growing “Land Back” movement where many tribes are attempting to garner more significant control over and even transfer public lands. It is part of a larger movement, often supported by groups that in the past were focused on wildlands conservation but whose mission has shifted towards tribal co-management or even ownership of public lands. The Sierra Club, for instance, now has a sub-committee advocating for tribal co-management. To be fair, the club also has wilderness advocates supporting conservation of public lands under the Wilderness Act as administered by public agencies. Other organizations like BARK, a Portland-based group, advocate for tribal management of the Mount Hood National Forest.

Recently Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland and Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack have ordered federal land management agencies like the National Park Service to find ways to facilitate tribal “co-management” of public lands. This directive is a significant policy shift implemented without congressional oversight or discussion.

There are multiple ways this Land Back effort is being implemented. For instance, legislation introduced by Congressman Raul Grijalva would allow the designation of cultural and religious sites and even the transfer of these lands to tribes.

Although on the surface this might appear to be a good thing to support, there is no size limit on what can be considered “sacred” lands, so in theory, the entire Black Hills or North Cascades, or any other area considered or merely labeled “sacred” by some tribe could wind up under tribal control.

Joe McKay, a lawyer and influential member of the Blackfeet tribe, expressed his opposition to the Tester legislation, partly because he supports the land being transferred to the tribe, clearly the Badger-Two Medicine area and presumedly Glacier National Park as well.

I don’t often agree with Joe McKay, but there is one view he espouses that is right on target.

As he told Nick Mott in that 2021 National Public Radio interview, he views non-Indian environmentalists’ interest in these areas and the reservation as being, “in my view, in the same nature as colonization, and that is because they elevate their own interests and concerns over the interests of my people.”

Two things McKay’s comment demonstrates. First, the interests of the tribe are not necessarily the same as the general public.

Second, many conservation groups use tribal support to further their agenda.

McKay, for his part, sees getting the land sold to the U.S. government transferred back to the tribe as “the only path forward.”

Although McKay says he favors protecting the Badger-Two Medicine, for now, he wants to leave open the opportunity for future oil and gas development. If, as he told Mott. “20 years from now, a new generation were to say things haven’t gotten better, we need to do something to help our people. And that they decided that they needed to develop somehow those resources. In my mind, that is their call. That is their choice.”

McKay supports the co-management of public lands as a strategic measure. That is, I believe, an accurate summation of most tribal co-management advocates. Co-management is merely a step toward ownership. McKay said that clearly: “Co-management is a valid way of reclaiming land and of land back. But for us, we only support co-management if it is part of a longer strategy to fully reclaim those lands.”


Part of the support for land transfers and co-management from conservationists comes from the belief that tribal control will result in better care of the land. This is what others call the “Ecological Indian myth.”

A complicating perspective of many leftists is that the transfer of public lands back to tribal ownership is a means of reparations for past social injustice. They overlook the legal paths that exist for reparation and the many options for creating new paths. They just see one way.

However, assumptions that tribal control will result in greater environmental protection may not reflect reality.

Clearcuts on the Blackfeet Reservation mark the border of Glacier National Park where logging is prohibited. Photo George Wuerthner 

Part of the “evidence” used to support this notion is that prior to the widespread settlement of North America by non-Indians, wildlife was more abundant, and ecological processes were intact. However, attributing this to human design is another example of human hubris and part of the Anthropocene booster mentality. How often have we heard that our forests and wildlife “need” to be managed by tribal people to be healthy, as if North America’s ecosystems were a mess during the millions of years that these landscapes existed without any human presence.

The more likely reason for the observed abundance at time of early settlement is the overall low population and the limited technology of the indigenous people who were here then. Without the wheel, metal tools, and domestic livestock, the ability to transform large landscapes is relatively limited. Where populations were high, such as in Central American civilizations like the Maya and Aztecs, their ecological impacts were significant, just as the consequences were in other parts of the world where agriculture permitted larger human populations.

The acquisition of the horse created a new “predator” that bison had not evolved to avoid. Evidence suggets that Indian bison hunting was the primary factor in the decline of the plains bison. Paiting by Karl Bodmer. 

Even with limited technology, a significant change like the acquisition of the settler-introduced horse allowed tribes to become effective hunters of bison, and in my view, as well as other ecologists and historians, in effect, made tribal people a “new” predator that contributed to the demise of the bison herds.

I cannot go into the numerous examples of resource exploitation and development favored by SOME tribal people and SOME tribes, but a few examples are worth mentioning. Most of these proposals are not reported by environmentalists lest they destroy the myth of the ecological Indian, so most people are likely unaware of these developments.

The recent approval by Secretary of Interior Haaland of a road across the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to facilitate more rapid transportation of fish caught by Aleut commercial fishermen in King Cove is an example of native concerns being elevated over national interest. In addition, Haaland approves decommissioning wilderness designation for the refuge and the transfer of ecologically less valuable native-owned property for high ecological value refuge lands.

If any Secretary of Interior can summarily change the designation of wilderness or transfer important public lands making up wildlife refuges, national parks, or other federal conservation lands without congressional approval or oversight, it is a massive threat to our conservation land system.

Yet none of the larger environmental organizations have even publicly challenged Haaland. I believe this because she is half-Indian, and these organizations strongly endorsed her nomination and may even, quietly support the giveaway of public lands.

Native people are seeking to develop a gold mine in Lake Clark National Park Alaska. Photo George Wuerthner 

A proposal to develop a gold mine in Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park by natives is not getting any notification or public challenge from conservation groups—likely because Indian people support it. Imagine if this were a gold mine proposed by a mining company in any national park like Glacier, Rocky Mountain, or Yosemite, we would hear howls of protest. But the silence from conservation groups is deafening.

A proposal to ban oil development near Chaco Canyon National Park, supported by local Pueblo tribes, is opposed by the Navajo Tribe, which owns oil leases in the area.

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska is threatened by a 211 mile proposed road to the Ambler Mining District owned by NW Alaskan natives. Photo George Wuerthner 

There is support from some Alaskan natives and the new half native Congress person Mary Petrola,  for construction of a 211-mile-long road along the southern Brooks Range, including across the Gates of the Arctic National Park. The road is necessary to facilitate the development of the enormous world-class copper mineral deposit in the Ambler Mining District of Alaska Brooks Range owned by natives in Northwest Alaska.

New oil well on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, Utah. Photo George Wuerthner 

The Ute tribe‘s and other tribes opposed a drilling ban on its reservation in Utah and support for a new oil railway, despite the concern about  new fossil fuel development contributing to more global warming.  The Ute are one of the richest tribes due to oil development on and off their reservation. The Ute tribe also protested the designation of Camp Hale National Monument by President Biden. The Red Willow Oil Production company is owned by the Southern Ute tribe.

Indeed every tribe with any signifcant oil or gas deposits located on their reservations are engaged in petroleum production.

Another recent example is the refusal of the Navajo tribe to put up a reclamation bond and to follow state environmental regulations after they acquired a large coal strip mine in Montana. It is worth noting the Navajo Tribe is the third largest coal producer in the country.

Clearcuts on former Tongass National Forest lands transferred to SE Alaskan natives. Photo Audubon 

There is the loss of old-growth forests on what was part of the Tongass National Forest after the lands were transferred to native people, who immediately cut down the ancient forests.

Clearcut logging of forests has occurred on other reservations. Seen here is the Quilnaut Reservation, Washington. 


The Colville and Spokane tribes of Washington have killed more than 50 wolves on their reservations even though  they are listed as endangered by state law.  Photo George Wuerthner 

The killing of more than 50 endangered listed wolves in Washington state, albeit on reservation land, by the Colville and Spokane tribes has gotten nearly zero condemnation from national wolf organizations and other conservation groups.

Tribal groups annually kill hundreds of bison each winter as they struggle to find snow-free grasslands outside of Yellowstone National Park. Some groups, like the Buffalo Field Campaign, support this slaughter. Other conservation groups are silent and are culpable for this tragedy. Photo George Wuerthner

There is a pattern here. When some native people expect to benefit, just like their counterparts in society at large, they are often supportive of environmentally destructive activities.

So one must follow the money and power. In most instances where tribal people appear to hold environmentally favorable positions, there is no financial gain to them to be realized.


Public lands are one of the most democratic institutions in America. All American citizens (Indians and Eskimos are also citizens) are part owners of these lands. They are critical to the protection of many wildlife species.

The Land Back and co-management movement poses a real threat to our collective inheritance.

First, co-management is questionable from a constitutional perspective, for it gives one group of people (tribal members) elevated authority over public resources based entirely on race.

Moreover, the idea of providing tribes protection for religious regions would appear to violate the separation of church and state, an essential element of our society that is increasingly blurred (i.e., abortion, prayer in schools, etc.). As for claims of treaty violations, the courts are available to consider these on a case by case basis.

It’s important to note there is no “social justice” on a dead planet, so putting the Earth First, should be the primary concern.

Like the larger society, there are different opinions within the Blackfeet tribe about development. Some support complete protection of the landscape, while others are more pro-development.

There is a significant danger in the common practice prevalent among almost all conservation organizations today of elevating tribal concerns and even promoting tribal control over public lands.

The situation with the Badger Two Medicine is emblematic of this problem. If you suggest that tribal approval or authority is essential for any land management decision, what happens if the tribes want less protection or want more development of public resources?  Who is going to oppose tribal desires?

In the case of the Badger-Two Medicine, conservation groups spent years elevating the tribe’s views as sacrosanct and using the tribe presumed concern for the sanctity of the area as the ethical justification for protecting these wildlands. That worked when the tribe appeared to oppose oil development in the area.

However, once the tribe changed its position and has come out opposing wilderness designation or other protective legislative measures such as the Badger Two Medicine Protection Act, these organization couldn’t say ignore the tribe’s position.

Indeed, with regards to protecting the Badger Two Medicine it is now acknowledged by many seeking to protect the area that no land preservation of any kind will occur without the tribe’s expressed approval.

And this is exactly the dangerous situation that many groups are creating for public lands protections across the country by suggesting that tribal concerns should be given elevated authority or primacy in any land management decisions whether by co-management or transfer of  public lands.

In my view keeping federal lands public with equal participation by all Americans is the best way to preserve these ecological lifeboats into the future. Co-management, Land Back and other disractions are all human-centric debates that diverts attention from the real issue before humanity–the ecological preservation of the Earth’s ecological function.

We must protect places like the Badger-Two Medicine, not for any individual or tribe’s cultural or economic values, but because wildlands preservaiton represents an ethic that puts  the sanctity of the planet first.

If you want to help protect the Badger Two Medicine  support wilderness designation of the area and consider joining the Glacier Two Medicine Alliance, a group that has worked diligently for decades to secure permanent preservation of the Badger area.



  1. Glenn Monahan Avatar
    Glenn Monahan

    I always enjoy Mr. Wuerthner’s writings. But I have to say that this piece is one of his best ever. There’s not a single point in this piece that doesn’t contain a solid reference and facts to back up George’s arguments.

    Tribal policy is a touchy subject, but it shouldn’t be. We need to confront the issue head on. And when it comes to public lands, I’m unwilling to yield a single acre for transfer to tribes. There is no evidence that tribes will better manage them, and a strong likelihood that they will mismanage, extract resources, profit from, and potentially close them to other Americans.

    The largest coal strip mine here in Montana is owned by the Navajo, who have bogusly attempted to use their “sovereign nation status” to circumvent environmental regulations. The coal is rail transported to the west coast and sold to China! Apparently there is nothing sacred about the land in eastern Montana that they are strip mining, and nothing sacred about the air that is being polluted, and nothing sacred about the atmospheric warming from CO2.

    The Southern Utes have more oil and gas wells than they do members. The wells leak so much methane that a huge methane bubble – covering hundreds of square miles – has been identified by NASA satellites. Again, are the land and atmosphere not “sacred” when they can bring billions into tribal coffers?

    I refuse to feel guilt for actions that occurred before my Irish ancestors came to the US in the 1860s. Nor do I feel guilt for the inevitable spread of Western civilization. Unfortunately conquest is ubiquitous in the history of Homo sapiens. It is unrealistic to think that we can somehow “reset the clock” to some “better time” for Indians.

    My personal belief is that we should be working towards full equal rights for all Americans. No racial group should be singled out as being more deserving to manage public lands. Indian sovereign nations – with generous tax avoidance – should be eliminated. All one people! No victims.

    I support ending welfare for Indians. This may sound harsh, but realistically can taxpayers be expected to pay tribes in perpetuity? There must be an endgame!

    Many tribes have been highly successful in business, and some extremely wealthy. (Simply Google “wealthy Indian tribes”).

    Bringing Indians fully into mainstream citizenship need not be a threat to their culture; many ethnic groups of Americans retain their culture without being classified as “sovereign nations”.

    I’m not insisting that Indians be expected to become “fully contributing productive members of American society”! All Americans are free to live the life they choose. And this includes the right to choose a life of hunting and gathering, and relying on medicinal plants. But whatever lifestyle one chooses should not be paid for by taxpayers.

    We’re all one people – more than 99% genetically identical; in fact it’s recognized that a mere 0.1% of our genetic makeup accounts for differences among races. ALL ONE PEOPLE!

    1. Nancy Avatar

      Some thoughts worth pondering? Even though Crichton’s book, State of Fear, didn’t get a lot attention back in 2004:

      1. Glenn Monahan Avatar
        Glenn Monahan


        The video link is 1hr 55 min!

        Would you mind, please, providing a brief summary that wouldn’t take such a big time commitment? Thank you!

        1. Nancy Avatar

          If you have the ability to pause it from time to time, Glenn, 1 hour and 55 minutes is not really a big time commitment, especially since the discussion covers a lot of the concerns that are often presented here on this site, in one form or another.

          1. Todd M Shuman Avatar
            Todd M Shuman

   … wondering how this book is germane to this thread … the onus is on Nancy to make such an argument

            1. Nancy Avatar


              The content of the video (the discussion, the panel) is what I found interesting, Todd, although the book was a good read.

              Posted it to this thread because Crighton’s discussion does touch on Yellowstone (among other topics) in the early years and Native American involvement.

    2. Tom Woodbury Avatar

      Hi Glenn! I don’t think it is really fair to compare Irish immigrants desire to assimilate into the dominant culture with imposing that culture on the survivors of that culture’s genocide, do you? While immigrants who came here in 1860 may or may not have actively participated in that genocide, they likely did not hesitate to take advantage of the economic opportunities created by the Indian wars. The “mainstream citizenship” you recommend for them is aka the consumer culture that is premised on exploitation of the Global South, at the expense of Indigenous peoples down there. Really??? As for genetics, I’m all in favor of eliminating borders entirely, and national identity as well, on that basis. However, I don’t see that happening anytime soon, and until it does I hardly think it is a good argument for assimilating Indigenous people (who are still responsible for >80% of the planet’s biodiversity, btw) into the dominant consumer culture that is rapidly destroying life on planet Earth.

    3. Mareks Vilkins Avatar
      Mareks Vilkins

      I refuse to feel guilt for actions that occurred before my Irish ancestors came to the US in the 1860s. Nor do I feel guilt for the inevitable spread of Western civilization. Unfortunately conquest is ubiquitous in the history of Homo sapiens.

      then you should put some Cromwell statue in your garden

      that said, why you are so restrained about singing praises to Mongol warriors who brought some civilization from advanced regions to the primitive Europe?

      1. Glenn Monahan Avatar
        Glenn Monahan

        Colonialization and conquest – as unfortunate as it may be – are endemic in human history. And conquests that have occurred cannot be undone, realistically. We are not going to turn North America back to Indians, and send 350 million people “back to where they came from”.

        The best we can do is to learn from our past and strive to make humanity kinder and gentler.

        1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
          Jeff Hoffman

          True, but did you know that the Natives here are the most impoverished people in the U.S.? This should be dealt with. We can certainly make reparations, with the wealthiest colonizers paying the most. Land held by the federal government can be returned to Natives, so long as the Natives protect the land and the life there at least as well as the government (not saying much, as cattle grazing is allowed even in wilderness).

  2. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
    Jeff Hoffman

    There is a lot to unpack here. I fully agree with George that just because indigenous people manage the land, that doesn’t meant that ecologically and/or environmentally harmful activities won’t be allowed or even encouraged. That’s because you can’t lump all indigenous people together. The big divide regarding this issue is between traditional indigenous people and “progressive” (non-traditional) ones. Non-traditional Natives are just as bad as the colonizers and everyone else on the planet. But truly traditional Natives, which are becoming very few in reality, have the same world view as Earth First!ers. The traditionals and progressives often clash on issues and sometimes are literally at war with each other, as in the killings at Pine Ridge, almost all if not all done by the progressives.

    Another problem here is that the traditionals are often not truly traditional. I spent a week at a Dine (Navajo) reservation in the Black Mountain area in Arizona, and the traditional Dine there grazed sheep. They called the sheep their “traditional sheep,” but there was nothing traditional about them, as they were brought here by the colonizers, and they were wrecking the land, as all domesticated non-native ungulates do.

    Then there’s the issue that traditionals don’t vote in tribal elections, because that’s not the way that they had traditionally governed themselves. The result is that only the progressives win these elections, and the tribes seem far more anti-environment than they really are.

    The bottom line here is that people are the same regardless of where they’re from. The only difference is the culture, and the Natives here have been inundated with the colonizer culture for so long that even the traditionals are losing their traditional ideals. I fully agree with George that the Earth and all the life here, especially wilderness and wildlife, should be the priority, not who manages the land. However, we also have to admit that accept for wilderness designation, federal agencies are in the pockets of industries and generally do a horrible job of protecting the land or the life there. I strongly oppose to any change of management or ownership of wilderness areas as long as they’re currently properly protected, but for other areas this is not a clear issue at all, and the Native people have the more legitimate claims to lands here if they don’t cause any more destruction and killing than the colonizers.

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      Sorry, that should be Big Mountain, not Black Mountain. An edit function here would be nice.

    2. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      I forgot to mention that cattle & sheep grazing are allowed even in wilderness areas, and that some tribes and tribal members engage in livestock grazing. This is an extremely ecologically harmful activity, and Native ranchers are no better than colonizer grazers.

    3. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Well said!

  3. Tom Woodbury Avatar

    “Tribal groups annually kill hundreds of bison each winter as they struggle to find snow-free grasslands outside of Yellowstone National Park” Is this factual, George? Please cite those years where >200 (i.e., “hundreds”) of bison were taken by tribal hunters. BFC, btw, supports re-establishing the severed relationship b/t tribes and buffalo, while advocating for expansion of habitat in the 8M+ acres of National Forest lands surrounding the Park. Tribes hunting bison, as they did for 15,000 years before YNP was created, is not the problem. Unnatural restrictions on bison habitat outside the Park is the problem. Treaty rights are not the problem. The Interagency Bison Management Plan is the problem, and we should not give into its divide-and-conquer strategy by blaming tribes for the injustices imposed by Montana DOL and APHIS.

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      Natives killing bison and eating them wasn’t a problem before the colonizers got here, when the Natives lived in small numbers pre-industrially as hunter-gatherers and bison were plentiful. Anyone killing bison now is a problem because bison populations are extremely low compared to the natural numbers that existed pre-colonization. The Natives no longer live as hunter-gatherers or even pre-industrially. If people want to hunt meat to eat now, they should stick to deer, which are overpopulated because of the lack of wolves. If people want traditional hunting rights, they need to live traditionally, which means pre-industrially.

      Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd had this same conflict with Natives who want to continue hunting whales. If you are Earth First! at heart, you prioritize the ecosystems, habitats, and native species, not humans.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        Yes, and the bison numbers were much larger at one time.

        This is what bothers me; neither side seems to realize that times have changed, and wildlife numbers are not inexhaustible.

        I don’t believe we can go back to traditional hunting for anyone because wildlife populations and habitats are so stressed.

        Colonialism wrecked it for everyone, and there is no going back, because it cannot be fixed.

        Nobody owns the land, that is what I have always heard.

        1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
          Jeff Hoffman

          We can’t fix extinctions, but the Earth can be restored. Humans need to live a lot more simply & naturally, and in a lot smaller numbers. Those are very long-term goals, but if we were to greatly lower human consumption and population, the wildlife that humans haven’t driven to extinction could certainly return. Of course we need to restore their habitat in order for that to happen.

          There’s no reason that humans couldn’t return to living as hunter-gatherers in 5-10,000 years if we wanted to. The issue isn’t that this or even just greatly lowering human population & consumption can’t be done, it’s that humans won’t do it.

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Thanks Tom, George does not follow the comments, but I do.

      You certainly named the bad guys, but I have to wonder about the role of tribes after getting mixed up with APHIS and Montana DOL for so many years.

      1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
        Jeff Hoffman

        The reason for this debate is that people don’t realize that humans are all the same, and that the only significant difference between groups of people is culture. Natives can become evil Earth destroyers too, and it doesn’t matter who is doing the destroying. On one hand some people are racist, thinking that people from other cultures, or other colors, are inferior. But on the opposite end of that spectrum are people who irrationally worship certain groups, in this case Native people. As usual, the Middle Way is correct, the rest is false.

      2. Tom Woodbury Avatar

        Hi Ralph: May we have an equal opportunity here to rebut George’s mis-statement of fact and of BFC’s position on the exercise of treaty rights? Thanks

    3. Glenn Monahan Avatar
      Glenn Monahan


      I’m surprised by some of your statements.

      I used to be a big supporter of BFC until they went WOKE. Now I am very opposed to their mission. When they became more of tribal advocates instead of bison advocates, they lost me.

      BFC is ignoring science when they used to use it.

      The hunting by tribes kills the migratory animals. Bison learn migration from each other. But instead of being able to leave Yellowstone to access those millions of acres of public lands, they are cut off at the knees. That is the science. Tribal hunting adversely impacts the bison

      We don’t do this with any other animals leaving Yellowstone.

      And by this they are assisting the ranchers and state by doing their dirty work.

      I hate to be argumentative, but it’s not 15,000 years ago. It’s 2022. And there is absolutely no reason for tribes to be killing Yellowstone bison. And by the way, almost all of the tribes that are killing bison either never hunted bison near Yellowstone (Columbia Valley fish eaters), or were VERY recent immigrants to the Great Plains (Crow, Blackfeet arrived here in 1700s)

      First, I don’t buy the ” I need to hunt to feed my family crap”. I don’t buy it from anyone even among natives in Alaska. Tribal hunting uses snowmobiles, ATVs, etc. No one has to hunt to eat.

      Now I get agree that people may prefer to eat caribou bison or whatever. I like eating salmon myself, but it’s pretty expensive, so I seldom eat it. “likes” and “needs” are different..

      The amount of money they spend on their big pickups, travel for gas, etc. would buy a lot of meat or other food at the grocery store. Not to mention there is welfare, food stamps, and many tribes get federal money that can be used for meeting basic food needs.

      Second, Indians can kill bison on private lands or other tribal lands if that is absolutely necessary. We do not need to kill public bison. Tribes have sufficient land to maintain their own bison herds.

      Third, their so-called “hunting” methods are horrific. I have watched them use drones to locate bison, drive them with ATVs and shoot them as they try desperately to get back into Yellowstone Park.

      1. Tom Woodbury Avatar

        Thanks for engaging, Glenn. I think you have this backwards: “But instead of being able to leave Yellowstone to access those millions of acres of public lands, they are cut off at the knees. That is the science.” They are not tolerated on those millions of acres of public lands, and tribes forcing a hunt on the tiny parcels of public land that ARE designated habitat is a leverage point for gaining them access to a significant portion of that 8M acres, because it shows the absurdity of the IBMP. While you accuse BFC of ignoring science, even though we are the ones who have forced USFWS into a year-long threats analysis under the ESA, it seems that you have a blind spot for traditional ecological knowledge (fortunately, the UN Biodiversity Conventions do not share that bias). The idea that honoring the tribes in the exercise of their treaty rights is somehow “human-centric” is absurd – it completely ignored the biological fact that buffalo co-evolved with Indigenous people here, and that white people are the ones who severed that relationship with this crazy idea that humans are not part of nature. Bottom line, Glenn, is that we need to release wild bison into the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, at which point hunting will cease to be an issue, and the tribes are well positioned politically to lead the way towards holistic solutions like that. I’ve written a response to George’s piece that I will publish in the coming days, and I hope that Ralph will reproduce it here out of fairness, as well. Best to Nancy.

        1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
          Jeff Hoffman

          Bison did not co-evolve with humans. Are you really that ignorant, or do you just purposely make up things to support your positions? Humans have only been in what is now North America for around 25,000 years. Bison evolved in Asia 2.6 MILLION years ago and have been on this continent for around 150,000 years. We all agree that the colonizers screwed things up here. But your worship of Natives is contrary to a biocentric or ecocentric attitude, and is indeed anthropocentric. Do you also deny that the Native people here caused many extinctions when they got here?

          1. Marc Bedner Avatar

            The first human hunters to arrive in the Americas drove some of the original bison species to extinction. The surviving modern bison species adapted to the hunting practices of the “Native Americans.” Referring to the consequences of the Pleistocene extinctions as “co-evolution” is about as useful as referring to hunting on foot with spears and bows (before firearms and horses were available) as “environmental awareness.”

            1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
              Jeff Hoffman

              That seems to be quite the human thing. All humans have caused extinctions when they came to new continents starting with when they left Africa 60-90,000 years ago, doesn’t matter what color their skin was or what their ethnicity was. Humans are quite the problem!

  4. Kaycee Prevedel Avatar
    Kaycee Prevedel

    George’s article ignores the nuanced history that Indigenous communities have faced. The Ute Tribe in Utah for example has drilled for oil and gas. But, that’s no reason to not trust them to be leaders for Indigenous/Federal co-management agreements such as Bears Ears. The only reason that the Ute tribe is even remotely doing okay is because when they were forcibly removed from Colorado to the Uintah Basin, Utah, there happened to be an oil bubble. White settlers wouldn’t have allocated those lands if they knew there was oil/gas there. But now, the Ute tribe is working on new renewable energies on that same land.

    George needs to realize that Indigenous place-based knowledge is valid (codified in NHPA Section 106) and many examples of land protection leadership are coming from Indian country. And, with the federal government destroying forests and natural resources at an unsustainable rate, we need Indigenous land management now more than ever. Studies have proven time and time again that land that is under Indigenous management holds more biodiversity and intact landscapes than land “owned” or managed by Settlers (ie. any race but Native Americans).

    All National Parks, National Forests, and BLM land is also Indigenous ancestral land with real and remembered connections to local Native communities. Much of this land is threatened by extraction. Co-management is a natural way to protect both cultural landscapes and wild places.

    Co-management and landback are great tools for conservation, and they are the future of public land protection. They pose only pose a threat to racist land management ideal while offering some needed reparations for our collective settler colonial history.

    Co-management is a step towards landback. Landback is an ongoing movement not only about land, but about the restoration of language, culture, etc. Many settlers/white people get worried about reverse colonialism and Indigenous people barring white people from the land. But, that’s a myth. If you look into the landback movement, there are tons of creative ways to reclaim the land — Such as voluntary land taxes, a way to make much needed reparations and a small way to make amends for colonial wrongs. The reason people get worried about landback is because they remember the terrible history of stolen land in the first place. The US did not acquire the land in a legal way, and all 500 treaties made with Native nations were broken by either settlers or the U.S. Government. Even recently in fact, the USA was one of the four countries to not sign the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples UNDRIP, because they knew human rights/land rights are still being violated.

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      George’s article didn’t ignore anything. It didn’t mention the history because George is focused on wilderness and wildlife, not on humans. Sure, the land was in good shape before the colonizers got here, but you’re living in the past if you don’t realize that the Natives here don’t live naturally any longer. It doesn’t matter which humans are destroying the natural environment and killing the life there, nor why they’re doing it, only that humans are doing it.

      1. Mark L Avatar
        Mark L

        On the contrary Jeff, it DOES matter who is killing the life there, and why they are doing it….these exact questions are WHY it’s happening to begin with, and nothing will be done until THOSE parties are revealed. Anonymity is preventing accountability, which IS the problem. Plenty of people live ‘naturally’….some more than others…..native Americans would not attempt to corner that market.

        1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
          Jeff Hoffman

          If you mean that some people are more responsible than others, I agree. But to the life that’s being killed and the ecosystems and habitats being destroyed, it doesn’t matter one bit.

    2. Glenn Monahan Avatar
      Glenn Monahan

      Reparations and land back for whom? All of the aggrieved individuals are dust in the ground, as are the “perpetrators”. Thus there is no justification for reparations. The best we can do is to move forward as one people- a brotherhood of man (and woman, of course). The goal is to remove divides as opposed to promoting divisive victimhood.

  5. Kaycee Prevedel Avatar
    Kaycee Prevedel

    What are you talking about Jeff? Indigenous communities are still here, and connections to ancestral landscapes, remain as strong as ever. It’s not hard to look into Indigenous-led land protection movements. There are many happening in Montana as we speak. Go look some up. Meanwhile, settlers are actively extracting and destroying landscapes and public land for profit at a rate that’s killing the planet.

    Glenn, reparations for the descendants of Indigenous people that were forcibly removed from their homes, and put on reservations with little or no resources. And, you think that doesn’t have an effect on the descendants today? There are still so many historical decisions that affect us every day. If you truly look into settler colonial history, you will also see that there are ways to make amends without completely ignoring history and the fact that white people are still benefiting from the same system that is and was brutal to Native American communities. Other colonial countries, like New Zealand, are ahead of the USA in Indigenous Land rights issues and have come to many agreements to try to remedy past wrongs. It’s not too out of sight for America, either.

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      I’m talking about the fact that many if not most Natives are not traditionalists, and do just as much harm to the land and the life here as the colonizers. I’m well aware of the good traditionalists who fight for the environment, I’ve worked with some of them. But there are plenty of “progressive” Natives who have no more love and respect for the natural world than the colonizers, and they’re a majority as far as I can tell. And I’m talking about the fact that with greatly reduced numbers of wildlife, such as bison, NO ONE should be allowed to kill them for any reason, period. If their numbers can be restored to substantially pre-colonization numbers, then sure, Natives can go back to hunting them.

      I never said that Indigenous communities no longer exist. I said that indigenous people also largely participate in destruction of the Earth. Natives graze cattle & sheep, drill oil, mine uranium & coal, etc., and that goes for both tribes and their members.

      You’re basically focusing on identity politics instead of wilderness and wildlife. You even admit that Natives participate in destruction of the Earth, then you excuse it. You simply don’t get it: we’re not concerned with the ethnicity or color of people, we’re focused on protecting and restoring the natural environment and the life there.

      1. Kaycee Prevedel Avatar
        Kaycee Prevedel

        I also want to see wildlife get back to pre-colonization numbers and I do believe that bison will be tolerated on public land in the next few generations. Ignoring color while you’re white is just called benefitting off of a system that was made for you. My point is that there are historical wrongs that we cannot ignore. Why bash landback and co-management when they are new progressive ideas to protect the environment and make amends at the same time? Co-management benefits the land and incorporates traditional place-based knowledge into federal policies. It creates paths toward reparations of the past and reciprocity for future generations. Articles like this expose a white lens that you are staring through.

        1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
          Jeff Hoffman

          That’s incorrect. Ignoring color in order to prioritize the Earth and the nonhuman life here is what I’m doing. Humans are not my priority, the rest of the planet is. Humans are the problem. Some humans are a bigger problem than others, as you’ve correctly identified here, but none are innocent except for hunter-gatherers who didn’t over-hunt.

          I simply want wilderness and wildlife to be protected and restored to the greatest extent possible. If Natives can and will do that, then I agree, they should be given their land back. But if they just want to make money like white people, or even if they want to pretend like it’s hundreds of years ago and they can still hunt bison, then the bison need to be protected from them as much as they need to be protected from the damn ranchers and their lackeys in government.

    2. Glenn Monahan Avatar
      Glenn Monahan


      I don’t say this despairingly, but reading your posts is like a mini-course in woke vocabulary. The part that I can never figure out is this: what is the PRACTICAL SOLUTION to “colonialism”. There are 350 million people in the USA Today. How will we fairly relocate people to accommodate reversing the colonialism appropriation of lands.

      I also believe that there are opportunities for concerned White people to assuage themselves of their guilt by engaging in PERSONAL ACTIONS, rather than relying on sacrificing our public lands to your cause. Have you considered donating your home to a deserving native family, or sharing your accumulated wealth, your car, a portion of your salary, including natives in your will?

      1. Kaycee Prevedel Avatar
        Kaycee Prevedel

        Landback is more than just “land back”, it is a movement for rematriation of language, culture, and focuses on respecting treaty rights and creative solutions like voluntary taxes. Voluntary taxes to the Indigenous nations whose land YOU live on.
        And, yeah! In fact, my husband and I just donated four bison heifer calves to the Wind River herd from the recent Antelope Island auction. What have you done?

        1. Hiker Avatar

          Didn’t you say:
          ‘Federal land management is just selling off resources (trees, water, wildlife) to the highest bidder.’
          Yet you end up being the highest bidder yourself!
          Please tell us what is in store for those Bison you donated. Are they protected?

          I am all in favor in Natives acquiring private land for their use. But keep your hands off OUR public land.

          1. Kaycee Prevedel Avatar
            Kaycee Prevedel

            Yeah, they are saved from certain slaughter, so you should consider doing it next year. The Wind River herd is small and they needed heifers to breed. Plus, they don’t hunt their herd because it’s not big enough yet. Antelope Island sells off hundreds to be turned into burger every year, so I saved them actually. You’re welcome.

            YOUR public land is being mismanaged and needs traditional ecological knowledge to help protect it from foreign gold mining companies like Barrick who turn BLM land into open pits.

            1. Hiker Avatar

              Did you read this article? Natives extract resources on the land they have now! Tell me what’s to stop them from doing that and then putting up casinos if public land is given to them?

              1. Tom Woodbury Avatar

                Holy SH*T ~ are you SERIOUS, Hiker? Please apply your logic to the dominant culture; i.e., since we can cite endless e.g.’s of destroying nature, the entire white population should be disqualified from ever having the opportunity to exercise stewardship, right? Do you actually accept that b/c SOME BIA-imposed tribal governments do the wrong thing, the ENTIRE Indigenous movement should be dismissed?!? REALLY?? Must be comforting to have such a binary, Manichaean view of the world. You know, some poor black people commit crimes. Maybe we should just lock up all black people, right? Some white people are racist – perhaps we should send them all back from where they came from. Ad nauseum…

                1. Hiker Avatar

                  Wow, this is why social justice shouldn’t mix with wildlife protection.

                  Of course the dominant culture has problems, but the context is giving land to Natives in the hope this would correct past mistakes.

                  The priority should be protection not assuaging guilt.

  6. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    This is what I have feared – somehow I must have missed this post!

    It’s like everyone must have a crack at exploitation now, everywhere in the world, and whatever trees or wildlife are left may survive, don’t seem to be important? It’s terrible, and I can’t support this thinking. Those groups I have supported or even have thought about supporting are no more if they go down this road. And to call those of us who want to try to repair the damage and save what’s left, no better than colonialists? Offensive.

  7. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    I have to see the country scarred by more mining, fossil fuel extraction and logging, no matter who is doing it.

    I also wasn’t aware that the Interior was so involved in this either, although it was my fear it might happen. I have read about some groups trying for ‘co-management’ of lands. I think like most here do that in some cases it can work, and others it could be a disaster that cannot be fixed. It is not a given.

    I wonder how it is all going to square with the Administration’s quest to wean ourselves from fossil fuels also.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      ^^sorry, ‘hate to see’.

    2. Kaycee Prevedel Avatar
      Kaycee Prevedel

      Federal land management is just selling off resources (trees, water, wildlife) to the highest bidder. Co-management is a good step towards ACTUAL land protection and gives the REAL owners (Indigenous communities) an actual say in what happens to the land. It is a good step in the right direction if you care about public lands and wildlife.

      1. Hiker Avatar

        Last time I checked the “real” owners were ALLL U.S. citizens, not a select few.

        Also, not all Federal land management is as you describe it. National Parks and F.S. Wilderness is mostly left in its natural state.

        1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
          Jeff Hoffman

          I take the Native point of view: no one can own the land. If anything, the land owns us. We can use the land, we can defend territory, but that’s it. The concept of land ownership is a mental disease brought here by the colonizers. But that said, the colonizers stole the land from the Natives, there’s no debating that.

          1. Hiker Avatar

            And the Natives “stole” it from each other. Constantly. For example: most of Navajo land was used by the Hopi for centuries before the Navajo showed up.

            You may take that view but, the reality is different.

            Landback is land grab. If the Natives managed Federal land like protected Wilderness then the only difference would be that the rest of us would have no say in management.

            1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
              Jeff Hoffman

              What’s your point? Mommy, he did too! It’s not our business what happened between the Natives. The only relevant issue here is that the colonizers stole their land. Not liking what you see when you look in the mirror?

              As to my position on land ownership, it is YOUR position that’s detached from reality. Please explain how a creature like a human, who is so puny compared to the Earth and who is totally dependent on the Earth, can own part of the Earth.

              1. Hiker Avatar

                Legally, that’s how.

                “The only relevant issue here is that the colonizers stole their land” Yeah, but they are colonizers too, that’s my point. They also raped, tortured, pillaged, and took scalps. The Aztecs were known for sacrificing captured enemies. I would think you would recognize this point lining up with yours; Natives being no different. Defensive much?

                1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
                  Jeff Hoffman

                  No different? The Americas were a virtual ecological paradise when the colonizers got here. Sure, it would have been far better if no humans at all ever set foot here, and in fact if humans had never left tropical Africa. But the ecological and environmental destruction caused by the colonizers is exponentially worse than that caused by the Natives.

                  And yes, HUMANS are the same. The difference is the cultures and societies, which vary widely. The Native societies and cultures generally revered the natural world and the life there. The colonizers’ culture just considers those things for what they can provide for the colonizers.

                  And BTW, we’re not talking about large agricultural groups like the Aztecs. They were basically in what is now Mexico City. This post is about land in what is now the U.S.

                2. Hiker Avatar

                  Part of the reason for this so called ‘ecological paradise’ is because the Natives were busy butchering each other. Another reason is that most of them were wiped out by disease long before most of the colonizers from Europe got here. What made colonizing easier was the empty land that had been farmed by the Natives.

                  Yes, some Natives appear to have revered nature; like ours did long ago; but not all. Those that did are long gone. The reality on the ground now is that most Natives are assimilated. Right or wrong, this is our reality now. We don’t live in the past. The hunter-gatherers that you admire did not post stuff on the internet. The focus should be how we can best assure the most survival of the most species. I don’t think giving land back accomplishes that and given your previous posts it appears that you think the same.

                3. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
                  Jeff Hoffman

                  First, I don’t at all agree with your comments about Natives. Some are factually wrong, and others are racist or at least ethnocentric.

                  Second, my position is that if the Natives are willing to protect the land and the life there as good or better than the colonizers, the Natives should get their land back. If not, then it should remain how it is.

                4. Hiker Avatar

                  I will let your words explain my confusion.

                  ‘There is a lot to unpack here. I fully agree with George that just because indigenous people manage the land, that doesn’t meant that ecologically and/or environmentally harmful activities won’t be allowed or even encouraged. That’s because you can’t lump all indigenous people together. The big divide regarding this issue is between traditional indigenous people and “progressive” (non-traditional) ones. Non-traditional Natives are just as bad as the colonizers and everyone else on the planet. But truly traditional Natives, which are becoming very few in reality, have the same world view as Earth First!ers. The traditionals and progressives often clash on issues and sometimes are literally at war with each other, as in the killings at Pine Ridge, almost all if not all done by the progressives.

                  Another problem here is that the traditionals are often not truly traditional. I spent a week at a Dine (Navajo) reservation in the Black Mountain area in Arizona, and the traditional Dine there grazed sheep. They called the sheep their “traditional sheep,” but there was nothing traditional about them, as they were brought here by the colonizers, and they were wrecking the land, as all domesticated non-native ungulates do.

                  Then there’s the issue that traditionals don’t vote in tribal elections, because that’s not the way that they had traditionally governed themselves. The result is that only the progressives win these elections, and the tribes seem far more anti-environment than they really are.’

                  ‘The reason for this debate is that people don’t realize that humans are all the same, and that the only significant difference between groups of people is culture. Natives can become evil Earth destroyers too, and it doesn’t matter who is doing the destroying. On one hand some people are racist, thinking that people from other cultures, or other colors, are inferior. But on the opposite end of that spectrum are people who irrationally worship certain groups, in this case Native people. As usual, the Middle Way is correct, the rest is false.’

                  ‘We all agree that the colonizers screwed things up here. But your worship of Natives is contrary to a biocentric or ecocentric attitude, and is indeed anthropocentric. Do you also deny that the Native people here caused many extinctions when they got here?’

          2. Ida Lupine Avatar
            Ida Lupine

            I do as well, up to a point, considering modern life. I’m sure and do dearly hope that there are people who still honor the traditional ways of life, whether of Native or European descent for land and farming, etc.

            But technology then was not the same as it has become now. For example, I do not consider hunting with drones and ATV’s, combined with a drastically reduced wildlife population, to be traditional hunting. It’s absolutely illogical to me, and I fear it is going to be another woke myth that while well-meaning is bound to have unintended consequences.

            1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
              Jeff Hoffman

              Both of my comments can be, and in fact are, true at the same time. I fully agree, and said somewhere in this thread, that people who want traditional hunting rights must hunt traditionally, which means how they hunted before the colonizers arrived. This is not perfect — Natives chased bison off cliffs, killing so many that most were left to rot, for example — but it’s far better than allowing use of things like guns and machines in “traditional” hunts.

  8. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    The difference is, to me, is that the worst thing about colonialism is the destruction of Native culture.

    Today, and correct me if I am wrong, but it would seem very few people of Native American descent would adhere to their cultural beliefs and way of life. It has been almost destroyed by the dominant culture and the modern way of life, if for no other reason than survival.

    I’d be very, very careful of any landback ideas, because it can be what is now a myth, where extraction, grazing, etc will rule the day and not a thing will be able to be done about it.

    1. Tom Woodbury Avatar

      You’re wrong. (Correction made)

  9. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Pfft. I can’t believe it. No killing bison on public lands! Tribal lands is another matter, I agree.

    Another thing that is infuriating, in today’s narrative, nobody considers the rights of the native wildlife to live, nobody. “Own” regarding land and the continual fighting over it ought to be stricken from the lexicon, as other words are being stricken.

  10. Tom Woodbury Avatar

    To Glenn Monahan, Ralph, and all others who accuse BFC of being “woke” now. From, the definition(s) of “woke” is (adj.) “having or marked by an active awareness of systemic injustices and prejudices, especially those involving the treatment of ethnic, racial, or sexual minorities.” Verdict: guilty as charged. Or maybe you prefer: “Disparaging. of or relating to a liberal progressive orthodoxy, especially promoting inclusive policies or ideologies that welcome or embrace ethnic, racial, or sexual minorities.” I am tempted to add “antonym: willfully ignorant; See, e.g. Trumpism. So as long as we’re engaging in binaries and cancel cultures, allow me to plead guilty on my organization’s behalf. We are very much aware of the systemic reverberations of genocide in our culture, and happen to believe that the road to actual reparations begins with reconnecting Indigenous tribes with wild buffalo – preferably on the 8M acres of national forest lands surrounding YNP. If that is being ‘woke’ then we are the most woke organization in all of Montana. Thank you for the compliment!

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      So you’re just going to make it about killing bison as reparations? It’s going to be a hard sell.

      What about the thousands of bison killed and giving them a chance to recover fully before humans converge on them yet again?

      They are already limited by ranchers as to expansion to their former numbers due to questionable claims about brucellosis. It is not a realistic goal and is harmful to the bison and other wildlife. We can’t go back.

    2. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      Instead of name-calling, let’s identify the issue here. Do you prioritize the Earth and the life here, or do prioritize human issues? You can’t have it both ways, though you can try to get as much justice for one as possible while prioritizing the other.

      As to this issue, the bison didn’t commit the genocide and land theft, the colonizers did. Therefore:

      Until bison are restored to their historic numbers in this area, NO ONE should be allowed to hunt them.
      As I said in another comment here, if the Natives are willing to protect the bison and the rest of the natural environment and all the life there as good or better than the federal government, they should be given the land back.

      Now that I’ve probably upset everyone here, I’ll await the responses.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        🙂 No, it certainly doesn’t upset me. I’m on the side of the animals always, especially now at what are critical times and the 6th Extinction.

        I do agree with what you said: we should try to get as much justice for one as possible while prioritizing the other, Life on Earth, which is essential to us too, although we seem to be too stubborn to admit it.

        There are also active treaties with the U.S. Government that are yet to be satisfied, such as for the Black Hills, where there is absolutely no doubt as to who should be on what land where. Why aren’t people concentrating on that instead of breaking down the National Parks?

      2. Marc Bedner Avatar

        Clearly, Jeff, you have not upset those of us who prioritize saving wildlife over human issues. Perhaps you haven’t upset anyone, if Tom is happy to describe himself and his organization as “woke,” although I prefer not to use such a dubious term.

  11. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    ^^or much of any kind of expansion at all.

    I should add that ‘woke’ now also has gained a pejorative connotation, in that it can signify irrational and over the top responses to societal wrongs, and a certain sense of misguided naivete to the realities of the world.

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      That’s exactly what it means to me. I’ll never forget the following experience:

      When I moved to Berkeley, California from Chicago in 1983, I had mentioned to a friend in Berkeley that I had right wing friends (we were all lefty-type radicals, though I was a radical environmentalist above all). My friend responded, “I would never party with someone who isn’t politically correct.” I had never heard the term “politically correct” before, and asked what it could possibly mean considering that politics are opinions.

      “Woke” is just the modern way of saying “politically correct,” and it’s all BS. Supporting traditional indigenous people, being anti-war, being anti-racist, and being anti-sexist are good things, but this woke/PC BS strikes me as overly sensitive overreactions to every little thing. For example, I’m Jewish, and I’ve ended up making friends with people who originally seemed anti-Semitic. If you fly off the handle at the slightest thing, there’s something wrong with YOU.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        Yes, it is very important to find common ground with others! Mowing down everything isn’t the answer.

  12. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    My apologies, I did not intend to offend anyone, only to discuss. If my post is inappropriate Ralph, could you please remove it? Thank you!

    Anyway, here’s some news that everyone should be pleased about. I’ve read about dam removal for Maine rivers, and the recovery is very swift! 🙂

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      This is great news and people have been working on it for a long time. So long, in fact, that I can’t even remember when it’s supposed to be completed.

      So, this is a good start. There are tens of thousands of dam(n)s in the U.S., we need to bring down ALL of them. Earth First!

    2. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      Ida, in my opinion – no apologies are needed. I agree with some here & disagree a bit with others – but unlike some social media stuff – this column & comments always (mostly) stay more like a discussion – I always learn something – whether I agree or not – its knowledge!

  13. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    “The Klamath salmon are coming home,” said Joseph James, the chairman of the Yurok Tribe, in a statement. “The people have earned this victory and with it, we carry on our sacred duty to the fish that have sustained our people since the beginning of time.”

    Just beautiful, and brings tears to your eyes! :’)


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner