An animal that’s a symbol of the wild, and once nearly exterminated, has repopulated the upper Great Lakes region. In fact, the gray wolf exceeded recovery goals, times ten, over the last decade.
And now wolves are doing so well, states that manage them are opening hunting seasons on them. Some say there are just too many to coexist with people.
But a few Indian tribes argue that their treaty rights call for wolves to fill every niche in the landscape.
In the upper Great Lakes, Indian tribes still have rights to hunt, fish and gather plants in wide swaths of territory that go back to treaties signed in the mid-1800’s. Usually it’s pretty straightforward for the tribes and the states to agree on how many fish or deer to take.
But with wolves, tribal officials say, it’s different. Their creation stories tell how the wolf was sent as a companion for the people. Tribes of the Great Lakes consider the wolf as kin. And the Creator told them the fate of wolves and the people are intertwined, as one goes, so goes the other.
“As we see the wolf returning or gaining strength, just as we Ojibway, Anishinaabe people have, we see that relationship,” says Kurt Perron, chair of the Bay Mills Community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “So that’s what concerns us with the hunt. It’s almost like you’re hunting our brothers.”
Now maybe that’s mostly symbolic, but not entirely. Because Perrin thinks if top predators are removed from the ecosystem, the effects will cascade through other species. And eventually humans may be affected.