Calling the demonstration disturbing, the tribal chairman of the Nez Perce responded to a protest at the Montana state Capitol Tuesday that accused his tribe of hunting female bison with fully developed fetuses.

James St. Goddard of the Blackfoot Confederacy came to the governor’s office Tuesday carrying a bison heart wrapped in a plastic bag. Goddard claimed he had taken the heart from a bison killed by Nez Perce hunters near Gardiner, and wanted Gov. Steve Bullock to stop the late-season hunt.

Speaking for the Nez Perce, tribal chairman Silas Whitman countered Wednesday, saying that the Blackfeet have no aboriginal hunting rights to the Yellowstone herd, and those tribes that do have rights already came to the table to determine seasons. The three tribes with hunting rights are the Nez Perce, Umatilla and Salish Kootenai.

“We will not bend to our enemies,” Whitman said. “He said the hunt sets us back 150 years. For him to come down and say the governor should take action, that sets us back even more.”

Whitman added that although the killing of pregnant female bison is not his tribe’s preference, the Montana Department of Livestock wants to stop the spread of brucellosis to domestic cattle. The Native American hunts do just that, while also providing food for members of his tribe.

“It’s unfortunate that fetuses are involved,” Whitman said. “We deal with the hand we’ve been given, and our people need to eat.”

He added that Nez Perce hunters typically bring back as much of the bison as possible, but that sometimes hides and organs are left based on conditions in the field. The placing of bison hearts in a high point is not a custom of his tribe, he said, which is a Blackfeet custom according to St. Goddard.

Whitman said that his tribe will continue to work in concert with those tribes that have recognized rights, as well as state and federal officials. He hoped to meet soon with the governor and the other recognized tribes to address concerns about the bison hunt. A date had not been determined.

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