The Wind River Reservation received good medicine by the delivery of 50 bison in October
A semi-truck delivered 47 bison last month. Originally, 50 were to be delivered but three were injured in the load up. 27 animals went to the Eastern Shoshone tribe and 20 to the Northern Arapaho.
Tribal Buffalo Program Manager and Eastern Shoshone member Jason Baldes helped facilitate the delivery onto his tribe's land. After a tribal elder offered a prayer, Jason spoke to the attendees. Around 50 people bundled up against the cool morning air stood in anticipation.
"I want to thank the National Wildlife Federation for allowing this work to continue through partnership," Jason says to the crowd I also want to thank the Intertribal Buffalo Council who arranged for the distribution of our surplus conservation buffalo to tribes. These animals came from a long trip, 14 hours on the road, so I don't want to waste any more time. The buffalo speak for themselves."
Right after he was done speaking, Jason and the truck driver open the door of the truck but it took some time for the animals to exit the truck.
"They do what they want," said Jason as we waited near the semi.
After the bison were released, they ran into the pasture and tribal members stood in awe of the new herd.
"It goes right to my heart. As soon as I got close, I blessed myself because It's a blessing they've come back to the reservation and our people need to bring our culture back" said Eastern Shoshone member Caroline Mills.
She wasn't alone in her recognition of the importance of the day. Former Eastern Shoshone Councilman Wes Martel was in attendance and said he made a connection with the bison.
"It's a real powerful feeling. While they were still in the truck, I got to go up and touch one. I put my hand on him. And my heart was in him and his heart was in me."
After the bison ran out to meet the rest of their new herd, I found Jason Baldes and asked him about the importance of the bison on the Wind River Reservation
He said, "Shoshone people, we are buffalo people. Gweechoon Deka, the buffalo eaters. But we haven't been able to eat them for 130 years. They're also very important as a keystone species, they're ecologically very important on the landscape. And so, the federal government, settlers, colonizers removed the buffalo as a means to subjugate us as Native people to reservations."
Bison used to be a big part of the Eastern Shoshone culture and traditions. After they were nearly eradicated, we lost some of those traditions.
"It's about revitalization. It's about healing, bringing this animal back to our communities because this was the commissary for our grandmas and grandpas, food, clothing, shelter. But it's also central to our cultural, ceremonial, spiritual belief systems. And so for the future of our people, our young ones. We have to have a foundation in buffalo again" Jason said.
The bison help the Earth by aerating the soil with their hooves. They help bring back plants by planting native seeds. Now, the bison are going to bring back so much more.
"It's about healing land, changing our land-use policies, focusing on cultural revitalization, language preservation, ensuring our young people are grounded in this buffalo so that in the future we have the ability to exercise sovereignty, self-determination. And this is about food sovereignty too, so you know, getting this animal back into our diets is very important for our health. And so the hope is that we can continue to grow our buffalo herds, manage them as wildlife as the creator intended."
The bison are unique in that they aren't interbred with cattle like a lot of bison seen across the American West these days. These are descendants of wild bison near us.
"These are considered conservation buffalo. They have reputable genetics. These animals come from Wind Cave which descended from Yellowstone."
We watched the new bison join up with the herd we've been growing over the last five years.
"The Shoshone Tribe, we have over 60 animals now, the Arapaho will have over thirty," said Jason.
As an enrolled Eastern Shoshone member, I am blessed to be in the presence of so many beautiful animals. I wish my grandmother could see this. I agree with Wes Martel when he told me, "It's really gratifying to see buffalo. Welcome home."