Bison Are Returning to More Native American Lands

Native American tribes are leading efforts to restore bison populations across the North American lands on which they once flourished. 

Bison, also known as the American buffalo, once lived on the Great Plains of the United States and Canada, in numbers upward of tens of millions. Various Native tribes relied heavily upon the animals to survive. They ate their meat, used bison bones for tools and weapons, and they even used their hide to make clothing and housing, or teepees. In other words, bison were critical to the Native American way of life. 

However, European colonists over-exhausted the bison, once they started using buffalo pars for machinery, fertilizer and other industries. By 1889, only about 800 bison remained in the wild and some 250 more could be found in zoos and on private lands. 

Deb Haaland, U.S. Interior Secretary of the Interior, and the first Native American to serve in the cabinet, told the Associated Press, “We wanted to populate the western half of the United States because there were so many people in the East.”

As the theory goes, she added, “if we kill off the buffalo, the Indians will die. They won’t have anything to eat.”

Currently, bison populations are roaring back. Now, 82 tribes have more than 20,000 bison in 65 herds. And many of those Native American tribes seek to push those numbers even higher. That way, the bison would once again thrive the way it did centuries ago, when their ancestors depended upon them. 

“What would it look like to have 30 million buffalo in North America again?” said Cristina Mormorunni, a Métis Indian who has worked with the Blackfeet to bring back the bison, according to the AP. 

Native American Bison

According to Haaland, there's no way to entirely restore the American Buffalo population to its heyday. However, her agency has taken it upon itself to become a primary bison source. In fact, they've transferred over 20,0000 American Buffalo to various tribes and tribal organizations.

Some want to go further.

The Blackfeet in Montana and tribes in Alberta, Canada, want to establish a herd that crosses the two nation’s borders near Glacier National Park. Various other tribes seek a “buffalo commons,” on which tribes in the region would be free to harvest the animals as they see fit.  

Not everyone is for mass bison transfer, however. Some cattle farmers oppose the plan out of concern that the animals carry diseases and compete for grass. 

Still, bison demand from the tribes is growing and Haaland said the transfers will continue regardless. Some tribes are even reintroducing traditional methods of harvesting bison. The dream is to teach more communities to responsibly harvest these important animals so they too can enjoy them.

Featured image credit: Bison, also known as buffalo, walk in a herd inside a corral at Badlands National Park, on Oct. 13, 2022, near Wall, S.D. The wild animals were corralled for transfer to Native American tribes, part of an effort by Indigenous groups working with federal officials to expand the number of bison on reservations. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)


Last Updated on January 23, 2023 by

One Comment “Bison Are Returning to More Native American Lands”

  • N Gloria


    As a Native … Our Buffalo has NEVER left our Native People. The non-natives always taken from the Natives

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