by Trudy Ecoffey, Tanka Fund Executive Director
“A cold wind blew across the prairie when the last buffalo fell — a death-wind for my people.”
— Hunkpapa Sioux Chief Sitting Bull
The first Saturday of November is National Bison Day. I wonder what Sitting Bull would say to having a day that was founded for these animals? I wonder what he would say that the last bison did not fall but there are estimated to be at least 500,000 in the world! Short total compared to the 30 million+ that were once here in North America.
It was estimated that after the slaughter that only took about 20 years to complete, there were only 1500 animals left and maybe about 350 that contributed to the current gene pool. It WAS almost a death wind to the Native people. As we go forth to celebrate National Bison Day on November 7, we will also be celebrating Indigenous Heritage month. We can reflect that there are many tribal nations and there are many buffalo that we can celebrate.
The life blood of the Sioux (Lakota) people and many other Native tribes was that of the buffalo. The legacy of Sitting Bull is still well and alive. He knew the song of buffalo was the future and he knew if they lived, so would the people. The people continue to live and the health and wellbeing of many Native people continue to thrive on the reintroduction of this American icon. We will celebrate and recognize this upcoming Saturday what that really all means.
We are the midst of a Support the Return campaign at Tanka Fund. We are working hard to ensure each dollar given will reflect on the return of buffalo.
In the last few months, Tanka Fund has regranted over $35,000 to Native producers across the country. Projects ranged from corrals to holding chutes to paying leases — small things that mean a lot. Tanka Fund’s goal is to reach $50,000 in donations with our Support the Return campaign, and with grants and foundation funding “regrant” over $100,000 next year to Native producers and community projects. Along with that, we plan to assist producers on technical assistance, financial planning, and local food distribution.
We are also looking at addressing the land issues. Even though some of the reservations in South Dakota and North Dakota are over a million acres, there are still real issues of control over those lands. Reservations are interspersed with deeded or private lands, and tribal members have little control over how those lands and tribal lands (owned by the tribe) and allotted lands (owned by individuals with undivided interest) are managed and leased. Sometimes up to 100 people own a few acres of land that was subdivided and subdivided within the family. Therefore, one individual can own a fraction of those acres. The tribal and allotted lands are then consolidated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs into range unit leases.
Tanka Fund will assist in helping families and communities consolidate lands and help with leases. Tanka Fund will help build the infrastructure needed to support buffalo such as fencing, water development, and corral design once those lands are secured. With that, we will look at the ecological resources and how best to protect and preserve the land and animals with good management and science. We want the buffalo operations and project to be sustainable both financially and ecologically.
Business planning is a must to be able continue to lease those lands. There must be enough buffalo sold to pay those leases. With funding from USDA through a local food promotion grant and food distribution grant, we will look at the feasibility of how best to buy those animals from producers and then get the meat from those animals into local distribution. Also, we are looking at using some of those animals to be purchased by Native American Natural Foods to be used for Tanka Bar products.
There is no road map to how this can happen, but we want to figure it out. What we do know is that each buffalo returned, each acre regenerated can only mean one more step to one million acres and thousands of buffalo. Each acre of land and each buffalo can mean some type of economical return that will be used to feed or support a family or community.
I encourage each and every one of you to take some time to reflect upon National Bison Day and Indigenous Heritage month. Wishing everyone a safe and healthy, holiday season.