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First Herd of Buffalo Return to Native Lands of Lipan Apache

First Herd of Buffalo Return to Native Lands of Lipan Apache

After over century, first herd of buffalo return to native lands of Lipan Apache

By Elena Bruess, San Antonio Express-News

Dec. 6, 2021

The Lipan Apache welcoming ceremony begins with blessings and ends with buffalo stew. Attendees form a semicircle around a white tipi — built moments earlier — and hold burning bundles of sage. Sitting to the side, four Lipan Apache elders and one younger member sing traditional songs while playing homemade drums. In the field to the left, nine bison, often referred to as buffalo, graze peacefully, perhaps slightly aware of the rhythmic drumming.

The ceremony is for the buffalo.

After being absent for more than a century, the first herd of buffalo have returned to the native land of the Texas band of Lipan Apache. The area — in Waelder, a little over an hour east of San Antonio — is home to 77 acres of grassland owned by Lipan Apache member Lucille Contreras. She is the founder and CEO of the Texas Tribal Buffalo Project, an organization dedicated to reconnecting the Lipan Apache, Texas Indigenous communities and buffalo.

With help from the Tanka Fund, a native-led nonprofit based in South Dakota, and The Nature Conservancy in Texas, five buffalo from a conservancy ranch in Colorado were transferred to Contreras and the project in November. They joined four others on the property, making eight cows and one bull.

At the ceremony, held Nov. 29, Contreras stood by the tipi to speak with people attending — tribal members and nonmembers. Her long skirt bore images of buffalo.
“I wanted to do an offering here and a small ceremony to give thanks and pray for the safety and security of the buffalo,” Contreras said, “for them to always feel safe here and to know that they are home. Thank you all for helping us regain our kinship with each other as native people in Texas, as well as the opportunity to care for our relatives, the buffalo, in our own traditional homelands.”
Later, buffalo stew was served. The drummers put down their instruments for a moment to eat. Contreras walked around to ensure everyone was fed. A bowl of buffalo stew was placed by the tipi as an offering.

“We just carry on the culture the best that we can with what was passed onto us,” said Richard Gonzalez, a Lipan Apache elder. “It was all that was done before us, any of us here, that gives us all strength.”

Read the full story by Elena Bruess about this return of buffalo to Native lands.