By Krista J. Kapralos Herald Writer
ARLINGTON — This winter, local American Indian tribal members are hunting the Nooksack elk herd for the first time in more than a decade. Stillaguamish Tribal Chairman Shawn Yannity remembers his experience hunting the herd for the first time in recent memory. These are his words:
“It was just a small bull. Five points on one side, three on the other.
“Just a little rag horn. That’s a bull that has a very small rack, nothing impressive about it.
“We drove out to the area where I figured they might be. I’d been watching that herd for quite a while, and when we got there … were probably 20 there, mostly bulls.
“They were all picking the brush, out there about 400 yards and farther. I was out there with my son. He’s 15 years old; his name’s Larry.
“The bull was the closest one to me. He looked out of the brush. The one that gave me the shot was the young bull, so I took it. I used a 300 magnum.
“I took care of it and butchered up the meat. I shared it with some of my family.
“Usually we just cook it like you do a normal steak or roast. A lot of times, I like to cook it over an open pit with just butter and salt. Let the alder smoke cook it.
“That’s traditional. Cooking it over a fire is one of our traditional ways. Elk, that’s part of our culture. You gather the deer and elk meat and cure it, and that would be part of your staple for the winter. It was part of our ceremonies, our gatherings, even if you had a funeral or something like that. You needed a lot of meat to feed everybody.
“The opportunity to harvest is definitely a celebration. Just bringing the meat back, that’s the important thing.”
Nooksack elk herd
The elk: The Nooksack elk herd numbered up to 1,700 in the early 1980s, but dwindled to fewer than 350 in recent years.
Tribal action: Area American Indian tribes spent nearly $1 million to restore the herd, including moving about 100 elk from the large Mount St. Helens herd in southwest Washington to join the Nooksack elk.
The hunt: Tribal members were issued 15 permits to hunt Nooksack elk this year, either for ceremonies or for meat to be eaten throughout the winter.
What’s next: Tribal leaders hope the herd will continue to grow so they can issue more hunting permits later this year.