SALMON, Idaho - The head of a Native American tribe in Montana demanded an apology on Tuesday from Wyoming's governor for disrespect shown to the tribe's historic preservation officer by a state wildlife official during a meeting about grizzly bears.
The leader complained that a tribal officer had been unceremoniously ushered offstage during the meeting when he sought to speak against stripping Yellowstone-area grizzlies of federal protections, and his microphone ordered cut off by a Wyoming game warden.
"I am extremely disappointed in the disrespect that was shown," Llevando Fisher, president of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, said in a statement.
A spokesman for Governor Matt Mead did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The public complaint is latest sign of growing tensions between Native Americans and federal and state wildlife managers over grizzlies that roam Yellowstone National Park and three adjoining states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
A federal-state-tribal panel that oversees the population of massive, hump-shouldered bears in and around the park has said for the past two years that grizzlies had returned from the brink of extinction and should be removed from a federal list of endangered and threatened species.
Grizzly numbers have increased to roughly 750 from the 136 estimated in 1975 when they were listed as threatened.
But the three tribes on the panel, the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone of Wyoming and Idaho's Shoshone-Bannock, reversed course last month during the meeting in Cody and registered opposition to delisting, which paves the way for sport hunting in the three Northern Rocky Mountain states.
The three tribes and the Northern Cheyenne have requested the US Fish and Wildlife Service formally consult with them about any plans to delist the grizzlies.
Those consultations will take place this year, said Chris Servheen, Fish and Wildlife grizzly bear recovery coordinator.
The tribal representative who was ushered off stage at the meeting, James Walks Along, said his tribe was among more than 30 nationally that have banded together to oppose delisting and the sport hunting that may follow once the bears are stripped of federal safeguards.
He said grizzlies hold great significance for the Northern Cheyenne.
"We have co-existed with them all these years, families have taken names from these bears and ceremonies we perform show respect to these mighty animals," he said. "We are going to speak and we are going to fight for the bears. The Cheyenne aren't scared to fight."