By Dr. Trudy Ecoffey, Executive Director of Tanka Fund
“…Something told me do it, maybe a dream, maybe someone, but something happened… sort of a spiritual connection…”
— Bull Bear, Buffalo Caregiver on Pine Ridge Reservation
There is always a connection, always a story as to why a Native person or Native community begins the tedious and sometime drawn-out process of returning buffalo to their homelands. It begins with a dream, a vision, a tradition, a desire, sometimes for environmental justice, for the meat they produce or all of the above.
Whatever the reason, for whatever the purpose, the stories all end with the connection — the connection of what the animals meant to the tribe, to the people, to the land, to the environment. What was lost needed to come back, with big projects or little projects, it doesn’t matter. One more buffalo is more than there was before.
The excitement when animals are released on a new piece of land brings the children, the elders, and everyone in between to great emotion. It feels like victory; it feels like a long lost relative coming home after being gone for a very long time; it feels spiritual; it feels right; it feels exciting; it feels complete. It’s the connection….
The calves are beginning to be born now in April. Their births usually correspond with the green, new, highly nutritious grass that is growing across the prairie. This ensures the mothers will have good nutritious forage while they nurse their rapidly growing calves.
The timing of the birth of many of the calves are connected with the grass. As the calves grow, the grass reaches a nutritious peak about the end of June to mid-July in South Dakota. As the grass matures and slowly starts to brown in late August and early September, the grass is more filling. The calves and the entire herd put on weight to help through leaner months ahead. The herd is connected to their food source. In turn, the plants of the prairie evolved to also need periodical grazing to ensure that the roots stay strong and the diversity of the plant community stays intact.
No grazing for many years can cause monocultures, poor recruitment of plants and weakened plants. This also affects the soil and microbial community that lies beneath. There is that connection. It is a symbiotic relationship that has evolved for millennia of time.
This is much like the Native people and the buffalo. The People depended on the buffalo for food, clothing, shelter and so much more. It was the economy. It was a Walmart on four hooves. Every aspect of the buffalo was tied to the cultural and spiritual aspect of the people where buffalo were abundant.
Today, Native people across the Nation are being reconnected with the animals. Today it can be part of the economy as people work on the financial and sustainable buffalo projects that generate food. It is part of the culture as people watch and study buffalo with Indigenous philosophy and participate in ceremonies that are connected to the animals. It is part of the regeneration of the land as grazing management and conservation practices are implemented. It is part of the bigger picture of environmental justices and part of the connection that we are only now just realizing.
We at Tanka Fund are happy to be a part of this. Happy Spring to everyone…