Police halt man carrying bison heart to Montana governor

HELENA, Mont.— A Blackfeet tribal member carrying a bison heart in a plastic bag in protest of an Idaho tribe’s hunt of pregnant bison was stopped outside Gov. Steve Bullock’s office in the Montana Capitol.

Police on Tuesday turned away James St. Goddard in the hallway outside the office of the governor, who was not there at the time, the Independent Record reported (http://bit.ly/1gaoaNj).

However, police and governor’s officials did allow St. Goddard to bring the heart into a meeting with the governor’s Office of Indian Affairs director, Jason Smith. St. Goddard, a spiritual leader of the Blackfoot Confederacy, then performed a ceremony with the heart and burning sweet grass on the Capitol steps.

The Blackfoot Confederacy comprises several Blackfeet tribes in Canada and the tribe in northwestern Montana.

St. Goddard said he was protesting the Nez Perce tribe’s hunt of bison outside Yellowstone National Park. Hunting bison this time of year, when females are carrying fully developed fetuses, violates the Blackfeet and other tribes’ reverence for the animals, he said.

“It’s a standard thing with the buffalo that you don’t do this at this time of year,” St. Goddard said. He said he took the heart from a carcass left in the Gardiner area by the Nez Perce.

Nez Perce Chairman Silas Whitman on Wednesday acknowledged the tribe probably is remiss in taking animals with formed fetuses, but stringent regulations keep the hunters out of Yellowstone. That requires hunters to be opportunistic in harvesting those bison that cross into Montana, and does not allow them to target only non-pregnant animals.

“When you spend hundreds of dollars on this trip, you want to bring meat back to your table and your families,” Whitman said. “It’s not our choice. We’d like to change that policy.”

He called St. Goddard’s actions outrageous and said the Blackfoot Confederacy was attempting to cast a negative light on the Nez Perce.

“We’re not going to bend to the will of our enemies to stop hunting just because they say so,” Whitman said.

Many of those bison that wander out of the park would be headed to slaughter anyway over ranchers’ concerns about brucellosis, a disease that causes animals to abort their young, he said.

There is no specific state law prohibiting animal parts from the Capitol, though the Department of Administration oversees security in the building, which includes police and the governor’s security detail.

“In today’s world, allowing biological material to be placed in the Office of the Governor is obviously a serious safety issue and therefore cannot be allowed under any circumstances,” Bullock spokesman Dave Parker said in a statement.

The Nez Perce is one of three tribal organizations, along with the Salish-Kootenai and Umatilla tribes, that have aboriginal bison hunting rights outside Yellowstone National Park.

The tribes manage their own hunts. The state’s bison season ended Feb. 15, but tribal seasons have continued past that time.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks warden Capt. Sam Sheppard said the Nez Perce have the latest hunting season of the three.

“We have a good working relationship with their enforcement people,” Sheppard said. “We’ll check tribal IDs and permits, but the tribes set their own hunt.”

Whitman said hunters have killed 113 bison this season, and the hunt will end later this week.

St. Goddard also objected to the Nez Perce leaving bison hearts on the ground rather than in trees, which is a Blackfeet custom. He said he planned to take the heart to a high point where an eagle could find it.

Whitman said most hunters take the hearts with them. Nez Perce tradition calls for hunters to eat the heart of a bison, but to put the heart of a killed enemy in a tree so he does not return, he said.

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