Quantcast

The Return of a Relative: Tribal Communities in the Northern Great Plains Rally Around Bison Restoration

Animals
American bison roaming Badlands National park, South Dakota. Prisma / Dukas / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

By Clay Bolt

On Oct. 11 people around the world celebrated the release of four plains bison onto a snow-covered butte in Badlands National Park, South Dakota.


Their large, chocolate brown bodies were in beautiful contrast against the park's snow-covered sagebrush, hills, and canyons. This was the first time that the species had set hoof in this area since 1877. For wildlife fans and the U.S. national mammal it was a homecoming long overdue. For tribal community members who were there to witness this important moment, the significance was immense for much deeper reasons.

"As a tribe, we and the buffalo are one and the same," said Monica Terkildsen, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Tribal Community Liaison for World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) Northern Great Plains Program. "The buffalo represent our own healthy return. The buffalo once provided our home, our life ways, our food, and created a diverse, flourishing ecosystem. Today, as our herds are growing, we are beginning to re-center as a people. So bison have a deep, profound meaning to us. They mean economics, they mean health, they mean our spiritual well-being. They are our elders that guide us. They are our relatives."

Prior to European settlement plains bison numbered between 30 million and 60 million and were the widest-ranging large mammal in North America. Bison played an incalculable role in the lives and traditions of Native Americans and many species that live in the plains. By 1889, only 512 plains bison remained after westward expansion and a concerted effort by the US government to eliminate the bison and subdue the tribes that relied so heavily upon them.

Today, WWF is working with tribal partners to restore bison to their rightful place at the heart of their people's culture, economy, and ecology. Our work includes efforts at the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Reservations in Montana to foster a renewed sense of connection to bison, and increased community support for bison programs and restoration efforts. After the absence of bison for over a century on tribal lands, restoring this relationship is not a simple endeavor. However, with support from tribal leaders, we have begun to identify the values, needs, and aspirations of community members for their tribal bison programs. As the recognized value of bison to the people increases, the constituency that supports bison restoration grows as well.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Two tankers leaving the Tamborine Mountain after being held up for two hours by TM Extinction Rebellion on Dec. 6.

A school in Queensland, Australia sent a note home to parents asking them to send their children with extra water bottles since its water supply has run dry, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Read More Show Less
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a press statement on the European Green Deal at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on Dec. 11, 2019. Xinhua / Zheng Huansong via Getty Images

The European Commission introduced a plan to overhaul the bloc's economy to more sustainable, climate-conscious policies and infrastructure, with the goal of being carbon-neutral by 2050, according to CNBC.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Young activists shout slogans on stage after Greta Thunberg (not in the picture) took part in the plenary session during the COP25 Climate Conference on Dec. 11 in Madrid, Spain. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

Young activists took over and occupied the main stage at the COP25 climate conference in Madrid, Spain Wednesday and demanded world leaders commit to far more ambitious action to address the ecological emergency.

Read More Show Less
A NASA image showing the ozone hole at its maximum extent for 2015. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The Montreal Protocol, a 1987 international treaty prohibiting the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to save the ozone layer, was the first successful multilateral agreement to successfully slow the rate of global warming, according to new research. Now, experts argue that similar measures may lend hope to the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
Example of starlings murmuration pictured in Scotland. Tanya Hart / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Police in Wales are in the midst of an unusual investigation: the sudden death of more than 200 starlings.

Read More Show Less