By Trudy Ecoffey, Executive Director of Tanka Fund
“Let’s think about the best days as Indian people as being in front of us, not behind us.” – Nick Tilsen, NDN Collective as spoken at the InterTribal Ag Council Conference keynote address on December 8, 2020
It has been somewhat of a refreshing week despite all that is going on around us. I took the time to sit in on several great sessions at the InterTribal Agricultural Council Annual Conference that was all virtual. Fantastic presenters and great information. I also sat in on an hour-long panel discussion called “Reverse the Red” from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Red indicates a species in peril and at the brink of extinction. A group of distinguished scientists and policymakers talked about what possibly could be done to reverse the tide of extinction and peril for many species of plants and animals.
The audience was asked what their favorite animal was, I of course said buffalo/bison. At one time, buffalo/bison were near extinction. What changed to reverse that? What happened to bring it to the conscience of people to try to save them? Why did anyone care if they survived or not?
As the panelists talked, they were asked if they had a magical wand to change something in this world to help with conservation, what would it be? The answers were brilliant. Biodiversity would be protected; world policy would be changed; empower the local or indigenous people; interpret science in terms people could understand and be aware of; get away from the colonial science of linear thinking and embark on ecological, holistic science of how species could be saved. It was inspiring…
Later in the week someone asked me if I had some information on the people who saved the buffalo from extinction. There was a great Native presence that helped the movement, particularly of Native women, who knew how important these animals were to wellbeing and knew that survival depended on the saving of these animals. It took policy and local change to see that these animals were worthy of saving. Can you imagine if there was not the insight of those people to try to save bison and they were wiped out? I can’t imagine what a world would be like if this beautiful animal no longer roamed the earth. This is how critical it is to save species, no matter how big or how small.
Now I am listening to a group called the Buffalo Treaty. They are talking about cooperation, renewal and restoration of bison from Indigenous people. The reverse of the red for buffalo continues. Though buffalo are no longer in the red and we actually are able to harvest them again, they are still a far cry from where the population was at 30 to 60 million before the great slaughter. They went from roughly 1,200 known animals, and possibly only about 500 animals that contributed to the gene pool, to around 500,000 in North America. It is exciting to be able to use them as a source of meat, which is actually helping to bring them back. The numbers have doubled in the last 20 years because people have seen their worth, not just as a meat commodity, but as part of restoring grassland ecology.
Unfortunately, according to the IUCN report, 31 species did not survive 2020 and are now extinct. That could have been buffalo in the 1880s.
We must look forward and believe that the best days are ahead for not only the Native people, but also for the regeneration of buffalo and the land and many species of plants and animals. As I listen to the Buffalo Treaty group, they are looking to send letters to the new administration to continue to change policy to allow for more restoration projects involving buffalo, led again by Native people. We continue to ask others to support these efforts.
Praying for better days ahead for everyone… wishing everyone a peaceful holiday season with good health and blessings for the new year.