Through Tamara Ikenberg
No buffalo have roamed the Rocky Boy Preserve in north-central Montana since the 1990s. And the palpable absence of animals has left a dent in the health and harmony of its Chippewa Cree residents.
âThe buffalo is one of the main guys at our biggest ceremony. We offer ourselves to him as part of that, âsaid Jason Belcourt, Rocky Boy Sustainability Coordinator and Rocky Boy Buffalo Project Leader. âWhen we have this ceremony, I look around and there is no buffalo. How can we have a ceremony if there is no buffalo? Are our prayers even heard?
Now that the bison are back, these prayers are ready to be amplified and answered.
Rocky Boy receives a large dose of bison medication via the arrival of 11 animals provided by the American Prairie Reserve and the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reserve (CSKT). The new residents will occupy 1,200 acres surrounded by 7.1 miles of fencing.
The 11 new bison will be honored with a day of events featuring guest speakers, traditional songs and dances, and a pipe ceremony.
âIt’s a historic event. When they get home, they’ll bring something good with them. They will bring spirituality and identity with them. So we know who we are and where we come from, âBelcourt said. “And knowing this, we may not be sensitive to so many social ills that plague our Indian reserve lands, such as alcoholism and suicide.”
The comeback is the result of over two years of planning, grant writing, fundraising and fence-raising carried out by Belcourt, its seven-member board of directors, entrepreneurs and other members of the community. eager to get involved in the process.
âThe bison chose each of us to choose this fight on his behalf,â Belcourt said. âHe’s booming and he’s coming back.
It is a boom that resonates throughout the Indian country. A major movement is underway to replenish buffalo reserves for the purposes of cultural and food sovereignty.
Rocky Boy’s return comes at a pivotal moment as the Senate Indian Affairs Committee struggles to pass the Indian Buffalo Management Act. According to congress.gov, the law would establish “a permanent program within the Home Office to develop and promote tribal ownership and management of buffaloes and their habitat on Indian lands.”
Rocky Boy’s Montana neighbors, including Flathead, Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Fort Peck, and Fort Belknap reserves, are among the reserves with the largest buffalo populations. Other entities leading the way and working in tandem to bring back the buffalo are Yellowstone National Park and the American Grasslands Preserve in Malta, Montana. The revolutionary organization formed about 30 years ago and is now known as the Intertribal Bison Council. The federally recognized council has 69 tribes in 19 member states, with a total herd of over 20,000 buffaloes.
Belcourt connected to the US Prairie Reservation and a mutually beneficial partnership was born.
âThis fits well with our goals of promoting the conservation of the species and fits perfectly with the tribe’s goals of bringing the bison back to their lands,â said Scott Heidebrink, senior director of bison restoration at the reserve. American prairie. âBy chatting with Jason and working with his team, we got to see the enthusiasm and meaning it has to bring them back something like this. I anticipate they will be very successful over the next several years as their program grows. “
The American Prairie Reserve had previously worked with other reserves on buffalo conservation, but Heidebrink said the Rocky Boy collaboration was a whole different animal.
âThe thing about Rocky Boy is that they start from zero and when we started working with Fort Peck and Fort Belknap they already had established herds,â Heidebrink said. âThe most difficult step in bison restoration is to put the first bison on the ground because there is a lack of knowledge, there is a lack of management and it is expensive. “
Recognizing the initial challenges, Belcourt and his board approached the reintroduction with caution.
âWe told them we were looking for a small herd because we wanted to reintroduce ourselves to the bison to make sure we could take care of them and be sure we are doing it right,â Belcourt said.
After Belcourt and his board got two bulls and four cows from the American Prairie herd, they had no idea other buffaloes were in store.
Belcourt quickly received a call from the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribe Bison Program, offering five more animals. The board wondered if they had the resources to make it work.
âIt was decided, yes we do,â Belcourt said. “It was a gift from the tribal neighbors and we better not refuse this gift.”
McDonald of CSKT said it made perfect sense for his tribe’s conservation program to partner with the Chippewa Cree.
“These are certainly peoples who have used the buffalo in the past, so it is good that this is reported to them, as well as to all those who have the buffalo as part of their culture and their food sovereignty”, a- he declared. âAnytime we can increase the bison population in North America, that’s a good thing. “
The public is invited to join in the celebration of the new bison, which begins at 9 a.m. at the new Chippewa Cree Tribal Buffalo Pasture, approximately one mile from Box Elder, MT. For more details, visit the Rocky Boy Buffalo Project The Facebook page.
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