Colville Business Council approves controversial horse removal contract

Some tribal members feel objection ignored


Last updated 1/30/2019 at 10:39am

The Colville Business Council took a series of actions on Jan. 24 related to feral horses on the reservation, including changing a law to allow machines such as helicopters to be used in the capture of feral horses, approving a contract to do so, and raising the bounty tribal members receive for removing the horses themselves.

The contract with Sun J Livestock is for $478,750 and is for the removal of approximately 1,250 horses. The Tribal Tribune reported the amount but not the name of the contractor.

Sun J Livestock removed about 420 horses in 2015.

The tribe also raised the reward for tribal members who capture feral horses under Range Program rules to $383, up from $250 for studs and $150 for mares.

Natural Resource Director Cody Desautel estimates the feral horse population to be between 1,600 and 2,000.

The CBC declared the horses an emergency “due to the significant habitat and environmental damage being done.”

Many tribal members are against the action.

“The tribal members feel that we own these horses and have for many, many years since it became a reservation,” Gerry Gabriel told The Star after the meeting. “They slaughtered 400 about a few years ago. A lot of people are angry they used helicopters, chasing them all over. They were jumping fences, getting onto people’s properties. It was a big mess. Some of these were people’s riding horses, and very expensive.”

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Gabriel said the last capture operation took privately owned horses, along with feral horses and slaughtered them and that owners were never compensated.

“A lot of people are unhappy with how it’s been handled,” she said. “Not only that, but they haven’t asked the people from the very beginning, yes or no — listen to the membership speak before they go ahead and slaughter more.”

Tribal Code Chapter 4.14 regarding wild horses states, “No roundup shall be authorized or undertaken in an inhumane manner, or where the captured animals are to be slaughtered or used for feed. All wild horses … shall be used for recreational or professional use in a humane way.”

It was reported by tribal member and doctor of veterinary medicine Charlene McCraigie that the CBC response to illegal slaughter at this meeting, and a previous meeting, was that once the horses were off the reservation, it wasn’t the tribe’s responsibility what the contractor did with the horses.

A 2015 Star article said the horses were to be shipped to Canada to be slaughtered after that roundup.

Gabriel said that she spoke at the council meeting but felt that the council wasn’t listening. Others in attendance were not allowed to speak, according to Gabriel, McCraigie, and Rich Mervin, a horse expert from Idaho, all of whom attended the meeting.

Gabriel feels that the tribal membership should be asked their opinion on the issue, and that the issue should be brought to the separate districts of the reservation.

“The tribal council doesn’t even seem to care,” Gabriel said. “In a cultural aspect, we respect these horses and we don’t want them slaughtered. I see it as going behind the people’s back by not having a referendum or going to each district and asking ‘do you want the wild horses, or do you want them slaughtered?’ It feels like the council is ignoring the membership.”

Gabriel said cows on the reservation damage the habitat and environment. Many of them aren’t owned by tribal members, and some, Gabriel speculates, are owned by council members.

Gabriel said that a water report she’s seen that ranges from 2007-2017 shows more damage in the areas the cows are in than the horses. She claims that once horses were removed from the Buffalo Lake area, allegedly because of overgrazing, cows were allowed in the same area, thus negating the excuse of overgrazing as good reasoning for the horses’ removal.

Gabriel suggests setting aside land for the horses on the reservation and managing them appropriately, citing the Umatilla and other tribes as doing just that.

“I’ve been around horses all my life; I’m 78,” Gabriel said about growing up outside of the Nespelem area. “Horses were our way of riding to go down to the creek to swim, or go to rodeos. Most every single family like that has had horses. It’s our history and our life, our lifestyle.”

McCraigie previously stated that implementing the tribe’s own Wild Horse Management Plan would take care of the horses and would eliminate the need to slaughter a portion of the herd every several years as the horse population grows.

A herd is said to grow by 25 percent annually.

Karen Condon was the one CBC member to vote against the contract.

CBC members were at a conference for Northwest Tribes and unavailable for comment, a staff member said.


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