“Bison are the same as us and that is how we feel about them. They are our brothers and our sisters; we try to treat them with the same respect as we treat each other.”
– Rosebud Tribal Elder (interview from dissertation “Reintroduction of Bison bison on Reservations in South Dakota”)
By Dr. Trudy Ecoffey, Tanka Fund Executive Director
Happy New Year to all our friends and relatives! We had a great ending to 2020 with our “Support the Return” campaign and successfully raised close to $50,000 in donations. This will go a long way to leverage regranting funds from our supporting foundations.
Tanka Fund is so excited to embark on this next year of really digging into how to support the Native buffalo caregivers. One thing we will be doing is a feasibility study on how to get more buffalo meat into our Native communities’ homes. We see too many animals getting sold off tribal lands and not being used right there for the people to access. We are also working on getting training and financing information out to the producers/caretakers so they can develop sustainable herds and sustainable ecological restoration.
The above quote was from a trusted elder on the Rosebud Reservation that took care of the Sinte Gleska University (tribal college on Rosebud Reservation) herd some years ago. I highly respected his words, because he was doing buffalo restoration when buffalo restoration was not so cool. In the 1980s, some tribal officials on some reservations were not keen to reintroduce buffalo. They felt it was a threat to the cattle economy that basically controls much of the land leasing on many reservations in the northern plains. They were not sure at the time how to manage them, how to care for them, how to handle them, or how to think of them as a spiritual part of the culture.
This tribal elder bucked the system. He was willing to learn from the buffalo, to make mistakes, to observe them, and to let them show him what was needed to properly care for them. He was a true leader in helping make buffalo restoration become a reality. He also helped the tribal colleges at that time with the “Bison Culture” idea. This idea was sparked by a tribal college natural resources instructor who wished to teach students that the animals were more than just a commodity. Tribal colleges at that time signed contracts to ensure that instructors were teaching students about the cultural relevance of the animal and to ensure that buffalo would not be manipulated or processed or raised in a way that was not culturally relevant. That meant “treat them as a brother or sister, as if they are a respected family member,” not just an animal for meat purposes.
In the aftermath of this last year and leading into this year, this quote also reminds me that we should be respectful to everyone and everything. See them as our brothers and sisters. Though their views may be different or we may not understand them, or they do not look like us, we must still be respectful. This goes for people, but also learning to understand our environment that we share with the animals, plants, and the land.
We need to strive to work towards unification both nationally and globally. As the world continues to deal with the deadly virus and ongoing climate change issues, we must try to understand each other and work for a common good.
Tanka Fund is dedicated to its mission. On the outside, we may be looking at buffalo restoration, but with this comes the deeper mission of the national and global healing and restoration of the land, lives, and economy. Blessing for a wonderful 2021.