Protecting Bison Is Critical To Native American Ecosystem, Culture

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By Allison Herrera
October 5, 2022

North American bison were erstwhile adjacent extinction, but efforts to bring the taxon backmost person been palmy successful caller years.

Bison were erstwhile adjacent extinction. Now, they're coming back.

Sometimes called buffalo, these monolithic animals were an integral portion of Lakota, Shoshone and Arapaho civilization — to sanction conscionable a few.

The North American bison is an important carnal for galore plains tribes in the United States, and tribes similar the Cherokee Nation successful Oklahoma play a portion successful that recovery, says Trent Holland, who works for Cherokee Nation's Natural Resources Department.

"A batch of the elders conscionable deliberation there's a transportation with each the animals, whether it beryllium a deer, bison, rabbit," Holland said. "There's conscionable tons of spiritual and taste significance."

Cherokee Nation has grown their herd to astir 220. They've been raising bison since 2014, erstwhile they received a assistance from the Intertribal Buffalo Council based successful South Dakota.

"We received 40 cows from the Badlands National Park and 8 bulls from the Teddy Roosevelt National Park," Holland said.

In the 1800s during westward expansion, settlers killed disconnected bison to remove Indigenous people from their land. By 1900, less than 1,000 remained.

Before removal, Cherokee radical depended connected woodland bison successful the Southeast, particularly during the Trail of Tears, said Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief Bryan Warner. 

"The spirituality of Cherokees and the situation astir them is that connection," Warner said. "As Cherokees, we utilized each of our animals, not conscionable arsenic a nutrient source, but they provided warmth. They provided truthful galore things for tools and antithetic things ."

Warner says raising bison connected the Cherokee Nation's preservation keeps the ecosystem successful check.

"Our soil, a batch of times is conscionable truthful deficient, and it's due to the fact that of the modern mode that we farm," Warner said. "That's not conscionable the pesticides, but bash we person a steadfast harvest rotation? Do we person each these things? Bison — they roam; they were precise migratory animals. What they foraged on, their droppings incorporate the invaluable seeds, and they repurpose each of that area, which people had a mode to replenish the nutrients backmost into the soil. "

Food sovereignty is besides an issue. The Cherokee Nation is starting a processing works for bison. They're hoping to turn the herd capable to wherever determination volition beryllium capable bison to supply nutrient for radical wrong the tribe.

"During the pandemic, that truly was a large woody — the nutrient security," Holland said. "That's erstwhile they started the processing plant, and we besides person a tiny beef herd present that we're going to effort to process beef and bison. "

Holland says the bison are beauteous casual to raise, though they don't similar being penned up excessively much. He says they bash that doubly a twelvemonth to springiness them their shots and marque definite they're healthy.

"Our herd hopefully is going to supply nutrient for several tribal members erstwhile we get the processing works going," Holland said. "They're inactive moving connected each the details, but they assistance the land."

Helping and healing the onshore successful Delaware County is what bison were meant to do. It's a mode Cherokee Nation tin look guardant by looking backmost into history.