Native Americans from across the state sang and danced in opposition to bear hunts in Nevada as the aroma of burning sage filled the air outside the Nevada Legislature building Monday.
About 50 supporters of a bill to block bear hunting in the state converged on the building to protect "bear nation." Many Native Americans view the bear as a sacred animal and vehemently disapprove of the state allowing hunters to kill their "relative," said Raquel Arthur, representing the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe.
"The bear is our elder," Arthur said. "We consider it a very sacred animal for spiritual belief and ceremonial purposes."
She added those ceremonies are thousands of years old. "We must stand up for bear nation because they have no voice," Arthur said to the group of about 50 supporters.
The demonstration fell on Tribal Day at the 2013 Nevada Legislature, and comes two years after the first black bear hunts were allowed in the state in 2011. State wildlife biologists have said the state's bear population is growing at a rate of about 16 percent annually and can support a limited hunt.
"There is no respect for wildlife in a state willing to sell bear tags because of the economic state we're in," demonstrator Lorayn Walser told reporters. "They don't care about the animals."
According to the Department of Wildlife, 25 bears have been killed in Nevada since the first bear hunt two years ago. The law allows for up to 30 of the estimated 300 to 400 bears in western Nevada to be killed per season.
But even one killing would be too much for Ray Greywolf, who traveled to Carson City from Fresno, Calif., for the protest.
"It represents strength and wisdom, and it's a very important spirit animal in Native American culture," Greywolf said. He added he drove about six hours Monday morning to join the demonstration because bears should never be hunted
Sen. Aaron D. Ford, D-Las Vegas, chairs the Senate committee responsible for the initial evaluation of the bill, SB 82. He said there is no hearing scheduled for the measure yet, but the committee plans to discuss it soon.
"I look forward to hearing the issue from all sides to see what's out there and then deliberating," Ford said.