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Native American Tribes get funding for bison restoration

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Wednesday, September 20, 2023   

The U.S. Department of the Interior has announced $5 million in funding to help reintroduce bison to Native American Tribal lands around the country, and the efforts are gaining momentum in states like North Dakota.

Through the Biden administration's "America the Beautiful" initiative, the money will support tribal-led efforts to bolster conservation programs to help return bison to their ancestral roots in Indigenous areas.

Chamois Andersen, senior Rockies and Plains program field representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said animals being reintroduced contain DNA from the iconic Yellowstone bison, the buffalo originally roaming the Plains.

"These animals tend to have big heads; they can withstand cold winters, selecting a mate, and how they forage in large herds and migrate," Andersen outlined. "Having this be sort of the source population, Yellowstone bison, for tribes is really helpful."

In 2021, five North Dakota tribes signed a treaty to support restoring bison, which extends to other states. And the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collaborated on a transfer of bison from a wildlife refuge in Colorado to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. The goal was to measure the extent of their integration into an existing herd.

Beyond the ecological and environmental impacts of restoring bison to grasslands and Plains, Andersen pointed out there are important cultural and ceremonial reasons for Indigenous people to have bison reintroduced to tribal lands, especially for elders.

"For them to bring back their buffalo on their land and have them utilize these animals as a wildlife resource for their ceremony, for their songs, for the elders to provide that oral history," Andersen explained. "It's been more than a hundred years since our Native nations have had buffalo on the ground."

While the $5 million are deemed critical to the bison reintroduction program, there is a larger, $25 million measure introduced by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to do even more. The legislation is pending in Congress.


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