Originally published Wednesday, March 13, 2019 at 07:24p.m.

MOHAVE – For years, Arizona Game and Fish Department informally worked with local Indian tribes, helping them to obtain wildlife items for their rituals. From now on, this cooperation will be official.

“Arizona is unique,” said John Cooley, the department’s endangered species coordinator who began developing the project, known as the Non-bird Wildlife Repository, in 2015.

“Arizona has more tribes than any other state. They often request our assistance finding wildlife items for their tribal ceremonies. For example, let’s say that one of the Pueblo tribes needs a mountain lion. So we let our work units know: If you happen to see a carcass, grab it and put it into a freezer.”

Freezers, purchased with the help of Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, are one of many positive results of the formalization of relations between the department and the tribes. Another is an inventory system, which will match what is being deposited with tribal needs.

“When the item arrives, I will contact the tribe,” Cooley explains. “We also monitor the program through tribal officials to assure that the items are actually being used for tribal rituals.”

One of the most coveted wildlife items for Hopi are tortoise shells. As many other tribes, after being restricted to life on reservations, Hopi don’t have access to tortoise shells needed to make Hopi traditional tortoise rattles.

“The ultimate veneration of any animal is through its use in ceremonies and prayers conducted for the renewal and continuation of life,” said Clayton Honyumptewa, director of the Hopi Tribe Department of Natural Resources. “The carcasses that the Hopi Tribe receives from the Arizona Game and Fish Department enables the Hopi people to honor these animals by offering them in our prayers to life’s eternal cycle.”

“This program allows the department to honor our state’s Native American traditions and further the appreciation for Arizona’s wildlife., said Jim deVos, Arizona Game and Fish assistant director for wildlife management.