Bison on Native Lands

The bison return to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, March 20, 2012


There are those few moments in my career when I am privileged to witness history. Monday night was one of those. In darkness, in a howling, cold wind, 63 bison arrived at a remote prairie pasture on the Ft. Peck Assiniboine and Sioux reservation in northeast Montana. Under the threats of injunctions and road closures, the bison were quietly loaded into stock trailers near Yellowstone National Park for the eight hour trip back to the plains. For the first time since they were almost wiped out by government sponsored hunts the genetically pure bison were returning to their native grasslands. It seems a sign of our times that such a simple, perfect act- the return of the bison to the plains Indians- was fraught with legal roadblocks and last minute screams of “unfair” by the cattle industry. The 63 bison had become political pawns, kept in quarantine for five years to ensure they were disease free, 63 bison that had never seen an open prairie because of their threat to the grazing industry. But on Monday night, in a stealth move spearheaded by Mt. Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the bison returned to the darkness of the northern plains. As the tribal story was once told, the return of the bison would mean the return of prosperity to the native people. Though only a handful of tribal leaders were on hand as the bison jumped from the trailers onto their remembered earth, I had this feeling that I was seeing returning pioneers, the seeds of something great to follow. I and everybody could only hope. To watch a sort multimedia piece I produced about the tribes and bison, click the link below.