Indigenous businesses welcome buffalo back to tribal lands

Native Wise is a Sawyer, Minnesota-based natively owned and operated business that now has 12 buffalo on its 380-acre farm.

“It’s amazing. Every morning, I wake up and I come out and I just pinch myself,” said co-owner David Wise. “I’ve been passionate about bison all my life. I’ve always thought of them as amazing animals.”

The buffalo was rounded up at one of the Nature Conservancy’s protected areas in Nebraska.

“The Nature Conservancy has been managing bison herds in our reserves and we have had land within the bison range for a long time,” said Resilient Forestry Manager Chris Dunham. “This management really focuses on the importance of bison to the ecological landscape.”

Wise is eager to let buffaloes use his land and bring back the diversity of native plants.

“All of these fields are not as diverse as they should be. They’re not as efficient as they should be,” Wise said. “When you have animals on that land, especially buffaloes, do they promote native plants? And, you know, you know, I think that’s going to be a good thing. It’s going to last for generations.”

Tanka Fund is a South Dakota-based nonprofit that transports buffalo to rebuild a sustainable buffalo economy and enrich the lives of local people.

“In the late 1800s, Buffalo was nearly endangered, and now we estimate that about 500,000 cattle across the country have returned through private producers, nonprofits and tribal herds,” said Arnell Abold, Director of Business Development at Tanka Fund. “Ideally, we want to keep growing them. With the right management, the right attitude and the celebration, things are getting better. It’s been a huge success. So we’re excited to be part of it.”

While partly inspired by the conservation of the species, restoring the buffalo to its native land also has cultural significance.

“This buffalo is important in the indigenous community, it’s just that there is a cultural and spiritual connection that comes from many, many years to hundreds, thousands of years ago where we were constantly working together,” Abold explained. . “Buffaloes and people who have survived the times. They are our food, clothing, shelter. We take care of them. They take care of us.”

The land on which Native Wise is located has been in the same family for generations.

“I didn’t really realize how far back it was until I started doing some research,” Wise said. “We lived about three miles from here when we were kids. And the trail through the woods to my grandmother’s house, right where I lived, right next to where she lived, so when I was a kid, We even walk here to visit my aunt. She’s a great baker. She has an old old wood stove in her house and it’s still there.”

Learning more about his family history inspired Wise to bring the buffalo back to the farm. This is the first time buffaloes have entered the reserve in the Fundurac belt of Chippewa Lake Superior since European colonization.

“I was actually writing an article about my family tree, and the Buffalo chief was my great-great-grandfather. After writing about him, I had a dream and he said, ‘Bring back my namesake ‘,” Wise said.

On Friday afternoon, the arrival of the buffalo is celebrated with prayers, songs to welcome the buffalo and a community dinner.

“Today was really just about being there for the celebration and celebrating bringing the cultural buffalo to Indigenous communities,” Dunham said.

The buffalo are currently in the corral as they adjust to their new home. Wise hopes to open the door in the next few days to give them plenty of room to roam.

“I mean, it’s a dream. I just want it to continue, you know, we’re trying to build really good fences, and, you know, we’re trying to give them a good place to forage,” Wise said . “I think they’ll really be a good source of food for the community. We’re planning to do some ceremonial harvesting, maybe donate some food for different ceremonies and things like that.”

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