by Trudy Ecoffey, Tanka Fund Executive Director
“We don’t do anything with the older bulls. They are not butchered. (They are) no longer breeding stock, their time has passed, and they are just left to be sentinels of the hills for people to look at and for them to look over the people.”
— quote from tribal herd manager
It is the breeding season on the prairie. Usually about mid-July, the young bull groups start wandering in from their bachelor groups to mingle with the cow-calf herds. Around late July to mid-August, the bulls are rumbling. The intense fighting and power can be heard for miles as they bellow, and fights commence as the bulls vie for the right to breed. It is extraordinary the amount of power there is involved.
This time is called the Rut. Each bull is looking for his place to capture the attention of a cow or two. Older bulls that have seen the last of their fighting days watch from a hill — not interested in the fight any longer.
This is also the time when people are harvesting the wild berries of the plains; chokecherries, plums, currents, and buffalo berries, and then preserving them. This is also the time of drying meat and canning garden produce. The days are hot and getting a little shorter, and the nights start having a cool breeze to them. The summer grasses are starting to dry, and many Native producers are in the hay fields getting the winter feed cured for horses and cattle.
Ceremonies for many tribal people on the plains are also taking place. This year it has been different, of course, as people are taking the proper response to the COVID. Many relatives that do not live on the reservations did not come back for the summer gathering. Many of the ceremonies were canceled or were limited to just close relatives to attend. All the summer powwows, fairs, and rodeos were canceled. But like the bellowing and rumbling of the bulls, you could still hear the drums in the distance. The buffalo is always the center of these ceremonies. It is the hope that next year life may resume a little more normal.
Many of the schools on the reservations will start out doing only online classes, and much of the fall sports and other school activities have been canceled. The elderly people and those most vulnerable, and the family members that care for them, shelter in place, while different tribal and nonprofit organizations deliver food boxes to help with those that are unemployed or have extremely limited resources. Border monitors are also on several reservations to try to keep people from coming to the reservation. This is in hopes of slowing any movement of the virus coming from people that do not live there. Most everyone wears a mask while in public and with great Native fashion, many people’s masks are made with beautiful designs and materials, or a favorite sports logo.
On most of the reservations in the Great Plains and elsewhere, conditions are tough no matter what, but this year as people try to fight this hidden enemy, it is even tougher. We at Tanka Fund and our sister organization, Native American Natural Foods (Tanka Bar), collaborated on another large donation from a private donor. This donation was used to provide Tanka Bar products to assist in food boxes that were given out on the Navajo Reservation, which was particularly hit hard with the virus. We hope to do this on other reservations as well.
We continue to work diligently with our Native producers on finding avenues and resources for them to help with their buffalo operation and/or help with those looking to get into raising animals. We continue to work on the Tribal Resilience Agriculture Cooperation (TRAC), so that we can help Native producers find ways to make their operation sustainable. We will soon be “regranting” some dollars from Native American Agriculture Fund, Cedar Tree Foundation, and donations. These dollars will assist with training on grazing management, and some small equipment needs for both providing local foods and to enhance something they need for their operation.
We are also gearing up for a national fundraising campaign later this year, in hopes to provide more funds for our producers and do online training for those wishing to gain more knowledge on raising buffalo. Please consider donating and tuning in virtually. By next month’s blog, we will have dates for the fundraising campaign and what to watch for.
Though things are different and somewhat quieter and there is less happening on many tribal lands this year, families continue to gather in small groups; swim and fish in the local reservoirs; and maintain some form of activities that don’t include too much social contact. The new normal is not so normal, but we are hopeful here at Tanka Fund and in your homes, that all are well. Like the old buffalo bull on the hill watching as the activities unfold below him, so we watch as life unfolds around us. Stay safe and well.