CHIPLEY - The spiritual leader of the Blackfoot Native Americans tribe traveled from Montana to Washington County's Seacrest Wolf Preserve to commune with the wolves and meet with preserve owners Wayne and Cynthia Watkins this week.
Leader Jimmy St. Goddard says the purpose of his visit is in part to aid in presenting signatures at the Capitol in Tallahassee demanding an investigation into the shooting death of one of the preserve's wolves, Chaco, earlier this year.
Nearly four months ago, after a devastating flood brought on by heavy rains tore down fencing at Seacrest Wolf Preserve, Chaco left the property. Several days later, he was found near Roulhac Middle School in Chipley, and was shot and killed by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Goddard states the commission violated the religious freedoms of the Blackfoot Nation, as well as those of other Native Americans.
"The killing of the wolf in America is a violation against the Indian Freedom of Religious Act," said Goddard. "We've been following the natural course of things, but thanks to the ignorance of many people, not knowing how precious this animal is, they're not listening. So we need to take another bold step."
That step is visiting with Florida's leaders to discuss the protection of not only the wolves, but also Florida's panthers. Goddard joined the Watkinses and other supporters in a visit to Governor Rick Scott Tuesday to make the request.
Goddard also held a ceremony for the Seacrest wolves, dressing in full ceremony attire as he communed with the wolves for the first time.
"It's living a dream," he said. "Last year we did a ceremony for the buffalo during the government shut down, and it went through all the news of the Northwest. All we were doing was performing something for the wildlife. We have proved the Indian Freedom of Religious Act, which will be (stressed to Florida's leaders). We're striving for the protection of animals and speaking on their behalf."
"This is bigger than all of us," he added. "I'm just a messenger; I've been doing the same in the Northwest. It was a violation for Florida Fish and Wildlife to kill Chaco; they could have brought him home, but their misconception of him being dangerous and their fear led them to kill him."
Goddard went on to say information and understanding would "lead to peace" and that he was merely "abolishing the fear brought on by ignorance."
"The people of Chipley have good hearts, but Little Red Riding Hood has done her job, because we are now all afraid of the wolf," said Goddard. "We are going backwards, but we need to let the wolf and nature bring us forward with the biggest gift God has given us: love. It is an honor for a Blackfoot to be in Indian country, visiting Seacrest Wolf Preserve."