“The Rosebud Sioux nation in South Dakota aims to build the largest Indigenous owned herd to help food security and restore the land.” M. Krupnick, The Guardian, Feb 20, 2022
“A trio of bison has gathered around a fourth animal’s carcass, and Jimmy Doyle is worried. ‘I really hope we’re not on the brink of some disease outbreak,’ said Doyle, who manages the Wolakota Buffalo Range here in a remote corner of south-western South Dakota in one of the country’s poorest counties. The living bison sidle away as Doyle inspects the carcass, which is little more than skin and bones after coyotes have scavenged it. ‘If you don’t catch them immediately after they’ve died, it’s pretty hard to say what happened,’ he said.
So far, at least, the Wolakota herd has avoided outbreaks as it pursues its aim of becoming the largest Indigenous American-owned bison herd. In the two years since the Rosebud Sioux tribe started collecting the animals on the 28,000-acre range in the South Dakota hills, the herd has swelled to 750 bison.
The tribe plans to reach its goal of 1,200 within the year…With their eyes on solving food shortages and financial shortfalls, restoring ecosystems and bringing back an important cultural component, dozens of Indigenous tribes have been restoring bison herds. Tribes manage at least 55 herds across 19 states, said Troy Heinert, executive director of the InterTribal Buffalo Council.
The pandemic, which has hit tribes particularly hard, added to the urgency of bison restoration, said Heinert, who is also the minority leader in the South Dakota state senate. The first animal harvested by Wolakota helped feed homeless residents of the Rosebud Sioux reservation…Although the words are used interchangeably, bison and buffalo are different animals. Bison – named the US’s national mammal in 2016 – are found in North America and Europe, while buffalo are native to Asia and Africa.
‘I used to be a stickler for calling them bison, but I’ve heard them called buffalo a lot around here,’ said Doyle, who is also a wildlife biologist. ‘I feel like it rolls off the tongue more easily, and it’s just fun to say.’
‘For Indian tribes, the restoration of buffalo to tribal lands signifies much more than simply conservation of the national mammal,’ said Ervin Carlson, president of the InterTribal Buffalo Council, at a House hearing last year. “Tribes enter buffalo restoration efforts to counteract the near extinction of buffalo that was analogous to the tragic history of American Indians in this country.’
While food security is most often cited as the reason for the recent interest in bison, tribes also hope that returning bison to the land will restore ecological balance. At Wolakota, for instance, bison have been eating the yucca plants that became plentiful after native grasses disappeared, tearing them up by the roots and allowing grasses to return. The grass regeneration increases carbon capture.”