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The Mountains Return
To the bright bison calf color
Boozhoo, indinawemaaganidog! Aaniin! That is to say hello, all of my relatives! Welcome to another edition of An Irritable Métis. We are in the hard slog part of giige-biboon – that period after midwinter – where ziigwan (spring) seems close … but really isn’t, at least on this part of Turtle Island. There’s no need to rush it! Bears are still being born in their dens and birds are still packing for their long journey and we could all use a little more time for reflection given many of us are still reeling from the holiday season, sweeping up the mess, boarding over broken windows, etc. … so please just try and hold it together a little longer. The wheel of the year turns slowly, but it does turn! No need to rush. Everything will be on fire before we know it.
For what it’s worth, I’m having a great winter. I’ve taken the cold weather head on when it’s come and celebrated when it’s relaxed. If I don’t plow another trail through snow the entire season it will still be a success based on the time I’ve already spent out in it but I have plans for even more outings which makes it all even better. Still, I’d be lying if I claimed I didn’t have an eye toward sandal season again myself … but it is coming.
Warm, cold, and everything in between, I appreciate all of your support. That doesn’t mean I’m not always taking new paid subscribers to help support my efforts … though I find myself in a constant struggle with my feelings about that. More on that in an upcoming newsletter. In the meantime, if you can spare a few dollars, either monthly or once-a-year, I do appreciate it; here is how you make it happen:
Exactly one year ago I was in Yellowstone National Park teaching a writing workshop from the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in the heart of the Lamar Valley. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experiencethat I think about often. It is here that the buffalo was pulled back from the brink of extinction, and also here, up Rose Creek (which I hiked alongside multiple times during my stay), where one of the pens that was a first step to reintroducing wolves to the park back in 1995/96 was located, and still remains if you wander up high enough.
I’d hoped to see wolves, or at least hear them, during my stay last year. I did not. The resident pack passed through the valley just down the slope from where I was staying the night before I arrived but didn’t return. Two afternoons later our group piled into a tour van and went looking for them where it was reported they had brought down a buffalo some miles away, and though the wolves were racked out post-feasting on the hillside we were staring at, weather conditions, distance and camouflage rendered them invisible to us. I wrote about that experience last April in a post titled, “Life is Lived for His Pack” that you may check out HERE if you are so inclined.
I’m thinking about wolves, and that post from last year, for a couple reasons. First, I subscribe to emails from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. The messages sometimes feature excerpts from Montana Outdoors magazine, for example, or notifications about lottery openings for permits to float controlled river corridors, opportunities for public comment on ever-changing regulations, etc. The subject line of the email message that hit my inbox this morning caught my eye: “Wolf hunting, trapping seasons closes Wolf Management Unit 313.” It made my stomach churn. Here is the body of the email:
The order halting the harvest of wolves in WMU 313 came after Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials received word that the pre-established harvest quota of six wolves in WMU 313 had been met. The sixth wolf was reported to have been shot Monday. Wolf harvest quotas elsewhere in the state have yet to be met.
Those interested in up-to-date information on the status of Montana’s wolf harvest can view FWP’s wolf dashboard, which shows the number of wolves harvested by region and WMU. The dashboard is updated multiple times per day.
For all wolf hunting and trapping regulations and information, visit FWP's wolf webpage.
“Harvest quotas.” What an awful concept, a brutal torment of language. There was a time when the idea of controlled hunting of wolves mightnot have immediately made me grind my teeth in outrage. But not anymore, not after the last few years of backwards progress when it comes to living side-by-side with these magnificent relatives. Cribbing from my post from last year:
Wolves were pushed to the brink of extinction before being pulled back. Now that they are allegedly “recovered” broad swaths of the macho-white-guy-with-a-rifle community would like to see them eradicated again. In January, Science published an article detailing how more than 500 wolves have been killed across Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. “Researchers and conservation groups are calling on government officials to rethink the hunts,” author Virginia Morell writes, “which have eliminated about 16% of the wolves living in the three states.”
A long list of organizations, including Indian tribes, have called on Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to user her authority to protect them, and while she has spoken out on the issue, last I checked she has yet to do anything about it.
Calling on government officials in these states is about useless. Forget about Idaho. And in Montana, our soulless governor was apparently so aroused by killing a Yellowstone wolf that he decided to do the same thing to a mountain lion. Meanwhile, just last week two senators – one from Montana and one from Idaho – wrote an op-ed spewing garbage about how Haaland’s editorial was “devoid of facts but flushed with alarmist rhetoric, perpetuating the false narrative that Idaho and Montana’s wildlife management policies are driving gray wolves to extinction.” These are men who wouldn’t know truth, love, or kindness if all three crawled up their asses and laid eggs that burst out on Easter Sunday as bunny rabbits.
Shooting wolves with high-powered rifles from incredible distances – or, even worse, from aircraft – is about as sporting as pouring gasoline on an anthill and setting it on fire. It enrages me. Even then, I find trapping – outside of still-traditional communities where people continue to practice subsistence living – particularly loathesome and barbaric. I don’t like that word “barbaric” but I can’t think of a better one. The practice is cruel and unnecessary.
People argue about trapping being part of our “western heritage” and all that garbage but there’s no place for it anymore and I won’t be convinced otherwise. In 2023, the world all but completely flushed down into the 6th mass extinction, what use is there for trapping? For furs? Is the life of a relative worth, what, $6/pelt, or less, depending on the animal? $2.50 for the life of a muskrat? How soulless must you be to be okay with that? I say this as a person whose cultural heritage is steeped heavily, heavily, in trapping and the fur trade. Trapping for furs is literally the initial engine for the creation of the Métis people, for better or worse. Yet that was close to three hundred years ago. In the 21st century in so-called Montana I’m for making it illegal. Organizations like Footloose Montana and Trap Free Montana have been trying to make that happen for years. I would love to see them succeed but given the brain drain that occurs among “sportsmen”,not just in Montana but everywhere else in the west, it’s an enormous challenge.
Waynaboozhoo and Ma'iingan
I said last year that my passion toward wolves was a spiritual one. That is changed only in that it is an even more deeply-held conviction today than it was then. Which brings me to part two of what has had me thinking about wolves; this is related to my recent post referencing the work of my friend Holly, who kids of being “a lone wolf,” and then goes on to address the seriousness of not being so much “lone” as “lonely.” I was struck by how many folks in the comments to her reflections also identify as such. I’m not calling them out, I’m just pointing out how that perspective of lone wolfishness, or lonely wolfishness, speaks to the dysfunction of our modern world. It’s not how things are supposed to be.
In the real world, there really isn't such a thing as a “lone wolf.” Of course there is the occasional exception, but wolves live in a harsh world that makes surviving alone next to impossible. Which makes them highly social creatures. Just like us. In fact it is the social similarities between wolves and humans that make wolves such a despised relative by certain vast swathes of the human population. We look at them and see something so similar yet utterly untamed, utterly wild … and some of us can’t handle that and freak out.
In Anishinaabe belief humans and wolves (ma'iingan) have been linked since the very beginnings of human existence. That is relevant because humans were the last to arrive, everything else was already here and doing just fine without us. We have needed their help and companionship since the earliest of times. An example: One of the first tasks that Kitchi Manitou – our Great Mystery, our Creator – gave the first man, Waynaboozhoo,was to travel all over Mother Earth and name everything he encountered. And so he did, roaming far and wide and giving names to all the relatives: animal, plant, bird, insect, everything.
During his naming travels, Waynaboozhoo came to realize that Everyone Else had a partner, someone to share their lives with, make dens with, etc. Waynaboozhoo discovered loneliness. He asked Kitchi Manitou why he didn’t have a companion, so Kitchi Manitou asked Ma’iingan to join him, then sent them out to visit all the Places of Mother Earth.
“Each of you are to be a brother to the other,” Kitchi Manitou said.
Eventually, though they were long, the travels Waynaboozhoo and Ma’iingan made together were completed. Along the way the two became close, close friends. Brothers, indeed. But now it was time for them to go their separate ways.
“What shall happen to one of you will also happen to the other,” Kitchi Manitou told them. “Each of you will be feared, respected and misunderstood by the people that will later join you on this Earth.”
This next bit Eddie Benton-Banai writes is telling:
This last teaching about the wolf is important for us today. What the Grandfather said to them has come true. Both the Indian and the wolf have come to be alike and have experienced the same thing. Both of them mate for life. Both have a Clan System and a tribe. Both have had their land taken from them. Both have been hunted for their wee-nes'-si-see (hair). And both have been pushed very close to destruction.
Certainly the parallels between Indians and wolves are apt. Genocide and extinction have been and continue to be extant threats. We see it every day, not just in the U.S. but around the world. But if we expand our thinking to focus on the idea that all of us are Anishinaabe – which I must do in order to get along in the world – then our perspective can change. We all want the same things. Companionship. Love. Community. A pack. All of us who relate to people talking about being lone wolves, of loneliness, can see ourselves in others. There may be sicknesses in the world, mostly human-afflicting, that make it so very hard for us to find what we need. And we – all relatives, human and non – suffer for it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find what we need.
There is so much loneliness. Among people. Among wolves willfully killed … for what? Among so many of our animal relatives, for that matter. Don’t think I haven’t wondered about those two doves last week, that maybe the second died of loneliness for the first. It happens all the time to so many of us.
There is power in this story of Waynaboozhoo and Ma’iingan, though. Power in knowing our difficulties were foretold. Power in seeing it play out. Power to work harder in seeking each other out. That gives us power to change what is happening. The world is still beautiful. We are all still related to it. We are all still here, together.
Aaniin, indinawemaaganidog! Giga-waabamin! Hello, all of my relatives! I will see you again!
But Don’t Just Take It From Me….
Last week’s poetry classes up on the reservation coincided with the ancient holiday of Imbolc: the year’s first celebration of the coming spring, as well as an honoring of the goddess Brigit who, among many responsibilities, is the Goddess of Poetry. How perfect is that? So I had the students write spring poems. Here is one from my pal Delilah, who is a 6th grader in Dixon, that seems particularly apt to this discussion and, dare I say, particularly hopeful….
Miigwech for reading, and let’s please keep a kind eye out for one another on this latest hurtling journey together through the cosmos, one which is far, far from over….
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Or so I thought. I was supposed to go back last summer to teach another workshop but June’s epic Yellowstone River floods put the kibosh on that. However, keep an eye open in my next newsletter for an exciting announcement related to 2023…. 🦬
Though given how dilapidated it became as the park absorbed it over time, it may have been removed since, I don’t know. I hope not.
Might have … but probably not.
I know, there are women too, and some few other folks, but it’s largely white men … an ilk of white men whose ignorance, sadly, spills over into almost every other aspect of cruelty toward relatives, human and non.
Depending on the storyteller, and the region, etc. you may see Waynaboozhoo named Nanaboozhoo, or Nanabush, or any of a couple other similar names, as well. It’s all the same person.
Who represents the female of the human species. I know, it’s different from what we are accustomed to; things are complicated when dealing with manitous and the like.
Per elder Eddie Benton-Banai in The Mishomis Book.
The Mishomis Book again….