A Historic Return of Bison to the “Buffalo People”

Close to 90 bison were repatriated to the Blackfeet Bison Ranch in Montana from Elk Island National Park in Alberta, Canada. Jeff Morey ©WCS

By Harry Barnes and Keith Aune

April 4, 2016 will long be remembered by the Blackfeet Nation. Yesterday, close to 90 bison calves arrived at the 9,000 acre Blackfeet Bison Ranch near Two Medicine River in Montana. These buffalo, from Elk Island National Park in Alberta, Canada, are the true descendants of the Pablo-Allard herd from Montana that were first captured 30 miles east of Browning and subsequently sold and moved to Canada in the early 1900s.

The repatriation marked the start of our effort to build and expand the Blackfeet tribal buffalo herd and will form the source stock for future reintroduction onto larger landscapes along the Rocky Mountains.

This is a story about connecting two countries and two cultures. It is also about connecting an ancient people to a vital traditional relationship with nature; connecting a missing species to an otherwise intact ecosystem; connecting people to a sustainable food source; connecting various tribes through a traditional alliance; and connecting youth to nature through a culturally significant symbol.

Close to 90 bison were repatriated to the Blackfeet Bison Ranch in Montana from Elk Island National Park in Alberta, Canada. Photo by Jeff Morey ©WCS

The Blackfeet Nation, often called the “Buffalo People,” has relied on the American bison for thousands of years. This majestic animal – the largest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere – has been an essential part of Blackfeet culture. Bison provide food, clothing, and shelter, but they are also important in trade and fill the tribe’s spiritual needs.

Once numbering 30 million across North America, bison (or iiniiwa in the Blackfeet language) were nearly slaughtered to extinction in the 19th century as the United States expanded westward, with a mere 1,000 animals remaining by 1900. Due to concerted conservation action over the ensuing decades, bison rebounded and today they number —> Read More

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