Leaders from the Oglala Lakota Tribe, the Frog Lake First Nation, and the Eastern Shoshone Tribe gathered at Chico Hot Springs in Montana this week to sign the International Buffalo Treaty.
Jason Baldes, who represents the Eastern Shoshone Tribe's buffalo herd, said the treaty is a roadmap to wild buffalo restoration on tribal lands throughout the U.S. and Canada.
"It creates a language for us to follow that respects the buffalo as our relative, that reconnecting the buffalo to our people is a way to help us heal, that the buffalo should be treated with the utmost respect, meaning that they shouldn't be treated like a cow," Baldes said.
It's the interest of cows, and of cattle ranchers, that makes buffalo restoration so controversial in the first place. While there's never been a documented case of the disease brucellosis being transmitted from buffalo to cattle, some ranchers fear that a resurgence of buffalo could threaten their livelihood.
Baldes said that the International Buffalo Treaty helps tribes with a stake in buffalo restoration stay organized against that kind of opposition.
"Navigating the exercise of our sovereign rights is sometimes contentious, so we want to make sure we're going about it collaboratively," he said.
The Eastern Shoshone began a conservation herd on the Wind River Reservation in 2016. It has since grown from 10 animals to 33, including 5 bulls gifted from the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes in June.
With over 30 signatories since it was created in 2014, the International Buffalo Treaty is the first cross-border Indigenous treaty in more than 150 years.
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