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Game and Fish Program Distributes Ceremonial Wildlife Items to Tribes

Arizona Game and Fish Department

Animal are integral to the ceremonies of many Native Americans in the Southwest. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, Arizona wildlife managers have now begun a program to collect certain items like tortoise shells and distribute them to tribes.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department for decades has passed on animal hides, claws and horns to tribes. But this is the first time it’s been formalized. The agency’s repository program allows tribes to request certain items, and if wildlife officers come across, say, mountain lion carcass or a deer pelt with antlers in the field, the parts are stored in freezers located around the state.

Credit Arizona Game and Fish Department
This whole beaver carcass was recently processed and preserved through the tribal repository program.

Jon Cooley is Game and Fish's endangered species coordinator and leads the program.

"Some tribes don’t have wildlife species on their lands anymore but those species that they had previously had access to are engrained in their cultural traditions and their ceremonial uses," he says. 

Cooley says the program is open to all Southwestern tribes, but those located in Arizona have priority. So far the Hopi, Navajo and Acoma Pueblo have received items. He also stresses that Game and Fish agents voluntarily collect the items and don’t kill wild animals under the repository program.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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