Last month, our team was able to assist with tagging and vaccinating buffalo alongside the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd at Colorado State University. This week, five of those buffalo joined a Lakota-led herd on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Read on for more!
In the video above: Five bison make the journey from Fort Collins, CO to Porcupine, SD on Monday, April 17th.
What does it mean for the buffalo to come home?
This question reverberated through the steel frames of the horse trailers housing five buffalo for a cross-state journey on Monday.
The exchange of buffalo between the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd at Colorado State University and the Knife Chief Buffalo Nation, a Lakota-led herd on the Pine Ridge Reservation, began in ceremony on the morning of April 17th. Diné wellness educator Darryl Slim sang prayer songs in preparation for the arrival of the animals to their new herd. Lakota youth smudged the group gathered at CSU with sage, and friends from Pine Ridge laid tobacco offerings in the trailers that would carry the bison to South Dakota.
A sense of anticipation and comradery permeated the air as the CSU team worked with attendees to ready the animals for transport, signaling that their mission of restoring bison herds in the American West has a ripple effect which unites the Native and non-Native community members whom they bring together. We at the Tipi Raisers were honored to have played a small role in this exchange by transporting the five bison in our trailers to the Knife Chief herd on Pine Ridge.
The caravan journey was a spiritual and reflective one, anchored by the traditional prayer songs Darryl offered throughout the 6-hour trip. That evening, as the buffalo took their first steps on Lakota lands under a South Dakota sunset, deep gratitude washed over the group - made up of volunteers and tribal members who helped ensure a safe arrival for all five buffalo relatives. The buffalo will live out their days in the sage-covered hills of the Knife Chief Buffalo Nation's ranch, where they will serve a cultural role for the Oglala Sioux Tribe and help form part of ongoing food sovereignty efforts.
Pictured: A 4-year old bull takes his first steps on the Lakota lands that will now be his home after a 6-hour trailer journey, and volunteers and tribal members stand alongside the leader of the Knife Chief Buffalo Nation.
What does it mean for the buffalo to come home to the lands their ancestors roamed? Does it mean revitalization of the culture, language, and lifeways of a tribe still recovering from genocide and displacement? Will it send out a call for the reconciliation of the history that nearly led to the destruction of this species? Does it mean the start of a new chapter for a people on the cusp of transformation? Perhaps.
What we do know for certain is that each of us who witnessed this homecoming will be forever changed by what we saw: five sacred beings settling into a new home deeply familiar to their DNA, standing tall in the grass onto which their predecessors breathed life for thousands of years; a symbol of hope for the beloved community that surrounded them.
Coming home is a powerful act - the change that follows in its wake is up to all with the desire, means, and compassion to continue building that home up.
In the video above: Tribal members and officials from the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd share reflections ahead of Monday's bison transport.
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