by Trudy Ecoffey, Tanka Fund Executive Director
“We told them that the supernatural powers Taku Wakan, given to the Lakota, the buffalo for food and clothing. We told them that where the buffalo ranged, that was our country. We told them that the country of the buffalo was the country of the Lakota. We told them that the buffalo must have their country and the Lakota must have the buffalo.”
— Mahpiya Luta – Red Cloud, chief of the Oglala Lakota, commented to U.S. officials during his trip to Washington in the mid-1800s. Walker, 1991.
As I start my first ever “buffalo blog” with this quote from Chief Red Cloud, I reflect upon that state of affairs on the Pine Ridge Reservation, where I have made my home and raised my children for the last 20+ years. Like every other place in the world, the concern for the COVID-19 is on everyone’s mind, and maybe more so here then many places, as the rate of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity compromises the health of the Native people even without the threat of a virus. Lack of adequate health care, housing, transportation, jobs, and some cases water and electricity makes fighting a hidden enemy even more pronounced.
I ponder on what some of the leaders of Native tribes might have said when afflicted with a hidden enemy at the time of Red Cloud? The enemy was diseases and lack of the basic essentials as the slaughter of buffalo continued and new diseases arrived with westward expansion. No one knew more than the great leaders of that time what devastation it would be without the buffalo. Many of the Native tribes depended on the buffalo not only for their food and clothing, but the health of the people.
The commerce was buffalo during Red Cloud’s time, and it can be again as we move forward on restoration efforts and assistance to Native producers that are working to bring more bison back to their homelands. Currently tribal governments are working hard on trying to find the answers to best protect the people they represent from this hidden virus, just as Red Cloud was trying to do in the mid-1800s to protect his people from disease and starvation.
Faced with lack of infrastructure, access to capital, and ability to obtain animals, Tanka Fund’s mission is to assist in creating avenues, connections, technical assistance, and resources to work toward a buffalo economy for Native people. We are currently working to provide more ways for Native people to get access to buffalo meat and products during this time. Many of the tribes are trying to protect their elders and those compromised with health issues from the virus by providing food distribution points and access to food without them having to travel and leave their homes.
With our sister organization, Native American Natural Foods, and with a generous donation from a private funder, we sent almost $10,000 worth of Tanka Bar products to the Navajo Nation to assist in their food distribution as they fight the COVID-19. The Navajo Nation in particular has been hit hard by this virus. You can donate here to support our efforts.
As the shelter-in-place continues here on the Pine Ridge Reservation, it is springtime and the next generation of bison are coming into the world. Typically, they are born from about mid-April to around the first of June, just as the green grass is growing. I hope to get out and get pictures of the young ones as soon as the “shelter-in-place” ordinance is lifted by the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Social distancing is a must with buffalo, so that should not be a problem, particularly this time of year, when the mothers are elusive because of their young and keep a good distance. Staying safe and healthy…