Moon of the Ripening Berries and Intensity of the Summer Heat
By Dr. Trudy Ecoffey, Tanka Fund Executive Director
July is an intense time on the Northern Great Plains. It is when the weather has you begging for the mid-winter below freezing mark. This intense heat can help the currants, buffalo berries, and chokecherries of the Northern Great Plains ripen to a beautiful fruit. Until that heat happens, they can remain bitter and tart.
The heat and long summer days also get the buffalo into full breeding mode and will continue for the next few weeks. The intensity of the bulls as they fight to dominate and to be the herd sires blows the whole prairie up with dust and the intensity of the moment.
It is also intense for some of the buffalo projects that Tanka Fund is helping. I am proud to say we have five startup projects that we have begun to work with and hope to support. At full speed, they could support over 500 head of buffalo on five different tribal land bases. These projects are in the process of fencing, water development, and obtaining animals.
Tanka Fund hopes to help with over $250,000 to redistribute to Native buffalo projects this fall. We are not going to be calling it redistribution or regranting funds, but call it “Return” Funds. “Return” is what we want to do!
The return of buffalo to Native lands requires a tremendous amount of energy, dedication, thoughtful planning and finances to return animals back to the landscape. One project caretaker I talked to told me that it will take over $75,000 just to fence his family’s tribal pastures that they either lease or own. Another potential buffalo project needs over $20,000 to do a short pipeline and water facility.
Some of those funds needed are being leveraged with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service funds, but foresight and conservation planning must be done first before contracts will be awarded.
As I watch these Native families and community endeavors work toward buffalo, ecology, and financial restoration, it gives me great admiration as they literally fight to obtain lands, primarily through leasing from their respective tribal lands; fight to obtain infrastructure to support animals on those lands; and fight to obtain financial help to make their dreams of being buffalo caregivers a reality. These fights to return animals to Native lands can take years, if not decades, to develop. Tanka Fund hopes to speed this process along so the fight is not as intense.
Tanka Fund is happy to announce that from various foundations and with generous donations from supporters, we will be able to provide much needed funds to these projects. We are grateful for NDN Collective, Northwest Area Foundation, Cedar Tree Foundation, and a private foundation that wishes to remain anonymous, which will help us begin the process of returning more animals to the Land, Lives and Economy of Native people.
500 buffalo seems significant, but what about the 30+ million that still needs to be returned? We will be launching our next “Support the Return” campaign in the next few months. Our hope is to really visualize what returning 30–40 million buffalo actually might look like.
At this time, all of the donations we receive from individual donors go back to the “Return” funds. We are fortunate to have funding from the above foundations and several USDA grants to be able to support salary, travel, supplies, etc., and do not need to use any donations at this time for supporting the Tanka Fund infrastructure. As funding comes in, the Tanka Fund Board and staff can work toward building committees to manage those funds received; leverage those funds with foundations and donations; and make the biggest impact with these precious dollars when awarded.
With that, Tanka Fund board is grateful to announce and welcome Ron Brown Otter, Lakota from the Standing Rock Reservation to the board. Ron caretakes one of the most successful Native family-owned buffalo projects in the Nation. He will bring much expertise on the board in terms of the caretaking of buffalo, impact needs for different buffalo projects, and years of experience in building an ecologically and financially regenerative buffalo project.
If you ask Ron, he will tell you about the great sacrifices, time commitment, hardships, and eventual success that he and his family went through to pursue the dream of restoring the buffalo relative back to his homelands. It has taken him over 20 years to get where he is today, and it was intense — intense like the heat of South Dakota summer and intense like the fighting buffalo. But the ripening did occur, and the fruits of his and his family labors are now coming to harvest. Welcome Ron Brown Otter to the Tanka Family.