The historic agreement formalizes intertribal collaboration to restore bison to tribal and appropriate non-tribal public lands.
Over the last two days, near the entrance to Yellowstone National Park in Montana, American Indian and First Nations of Canada tribes met to discuss and expand the number of signatories to the Buffalo Treaty – an historic agreement that formalizes intertribal collaboration to restore bison to tribal and appropriate non-tribal public lands.
The treaty signing expands a commitment that began in 2014 when 13 nations of American Indians and the First Nations of Canada wrote and signed the first cross-border indigenous Buffalo Treaty.
The signing ceremony Monday opened The Buffalo Treaty Convention 2019: Nurturing Cooperation, Renewal, Restoration, and Partnership hosted by the Samson Cree from central Alberta. The treaty signing and convention marked the next phase of the transboundary tribal collaboration to restore bison to native lands and advance bison conservation.
Convention attendees gathered to discuss the future of tribal bison conservation, opportunities for expanded collaboration with conservation organizations, and bison management at Yellowstone National Park.
“The Buffalo Treaty convention honors, recognizes, and revitalizes the time immemorial relationship American Indians and First Nations of Canada have with BUFFALO,” said Buffalo Treaty convener Dr. Leroy Little Bear. “It is our collective intention to recognize BUFFALO as a wild free-ranging animal and as an important part of the ecological system; to provide a safe space and environment across our historic homelands, on both sides of the United States – Canada border.”
The treaty signing and Convention followed the recent agreement between the National Park Service, Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of Fort Peck reservation and State of Montana, to transfer 55 disease free bison from Yellowstone National Park to Fort Peck earlier this year. The recent transfer reduces the number of bison shipped to slaughter at Yellowstone, a practice that has long been of grave concern to the Buffalo Treaty Tribes and National Parks Conservation Association.
The Buffalo Treaty Convention was hosted with partnership support from the National Parks Conservation Association and other nonprofit partners.
Quotes from delegates attending the Convention:
“I grew up without having a herd. As far as the cultural side, we missed the buffalo all these years and the younger kids were losing interest. But, with us getting the buffalo back now, I hear a lot of talk among themselves, and that’s why we do it. We have to keep the culture alive, we have to keep the language alive, and the buffalo has that spirit.” – Wyman Weed, Eastern Shoshone Tribe, Wind River
“The herd has grown. The work now is to create more space and make more of our lands available for them to exist on, and to grow a population to a sustainable level where we can begin harvesting them again. We can begin utilizing them in ceremonies, have an education program to work with our youth, bring our elders together with our young people, and to reinvigorate our language to learn about how we use all the parts of the buffalo. That’s part of the cultural revitalization. We are just glad to be part of this effort and to be with these other tribes that are working on bison conservation.” – Jason Baldes, Eastern Shoshone Tribe, Wind River
“Some of our creation stories are around the buffalo. I think it’s our time now as the two-leggeds to help our four-legged silent nation, the buffalo nation, that was almost extinct. And to continue the teaching of our ancestors, our grandmas and grandpas, and pass that on generation to generation. The more we help each other nation-to-nation, tribe-to-tribe, the more powerful we’re gonna be. The stronger voices we’re gonna have. The more relationships we’re gonna build.” – Ricky Grey Grass, Fifth Member Oglala Lakota Nation
“I’ve seen maps of the buffalo and how wide a range they used to have. But with this Buffalo Treaty, the two-legged have to do their part. We have the intelligence to be able to combat these things. A lot of it is storytelling – we have to compel people to try to understand. Back in the day, policies were put in place to eradicate us from our ceremonial, hunting, and medicine grounds, and that severed our connection to parts of the continent. Wherever the buffalo went, that’s where our territory is. But it took allies, it took people of compassion, people like yourselves, the allies and the NGOS that have seen something different, seeing that those policies are not good for their hearts…
I think today with the Buffalo Treaty signers, they’re all allies together to find other options. We shouldn’t be treating the buffalo like livestock and trying to have so many restrictions on them. All they really want is their own place to go, they can take care of themselves. We used to be that way, we can’t be that way anymore because of our own fences that we’re stuck in too. We can’t go out and hunt or prepare for the winter. It kind of gives us hope if we can help the buffalo to be happier, more at peace, and maybe that’ll help heal us. That’s the big message you hear with a lot of tribes – maybe if we can help them, it’ll help us.” – Mike Catches Enemy (Lakota name Sacred Thunder Buffalo), Oglala Lakota Nation
“We were established in 1992 and our mission was and is to return buffalo to tribal lands. Ideally, the way I see ITBC and the Buffalo Treaty working together is to heal across the land and bring the buffalo across the landscape. It’s a beginning and it’s a start to something new and better, for the buffalo and our future generations, not just us.” – Arnell Abold, Executive Director, Intertribal Buffalo Council
“The Buffalo Treaty is a testament to the agency and sovereignty of Indigenous nations. This international treaty unites diverse Nations and Tribes across North America by acknowledging the sacred relationship we have all had with the buffalo since time immemorial. The buffalo is our relative and our source of life. Nations recognize that by working together to restore and renew this relationship with our relative, we will grow stronger. Each year this treaty has welcomed new signatories and supporters. I am confident this momentum will continue to accelerate and that we will once again see the buffalo roam free on our homelands.” – Marlene Poitras, Regional Chief, Assembly of First Nations Alberta Region
About the National Parks Conservation Association: For 100 years, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than 1.3 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org/100.