The Northern Arapaho Tribe welcomed a herd of buffalo to their land for the first time on Wednesday. The 10 animals' arrival wasn't officially announced until Tuesday night, but that didn't stop more than 100 tribal members from gathering to watch their release.
"We talked about this for years, bringing the buffalo back," Crystal C'Bearing of the tribe's historic preservation office said to the crowd. "With everything that's happened to our people, our language, our culture, we feel that bringing the buffalo back here is going to heal us."
The event began with a flag song from the Eagle Drum, and a prayer from Northern Arapaho elder Nelson White. Then, the crowd gathered at the perimeter of a barbed wire fence to watch the buffalo barrel off of a livestock trailer. They had travelled more than 500 miles from the federally-run National Bison Range in Western Montana.
Seeing the animals settle into their new home was an emotional experience for Devin Oldman, who took charge of organizing the transfer.
"When I'm 80 or 90 and we have a huge herd, if I'm blessed by the creator to live that long, and I have great grandchildren or great-great grandchildren, I'll be able to see that reciprocity for the future," Oldman said.
Wednesday's crowd included two busloads of students from Arapahoe Elementary and Charter High Schools, who have been studying the cultural significance of buffalo. The elementary school students performed a song to welcome the animals to Wind River.
The Buffalo are currently living on 48 acres of rangeland in Kinnear, but the tribe will work to expand that fenced-off area to more than 600 acres in the coming months.
Less than 10 miles away, the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, which shares the Wind River Reservation with the Northern Arapaho Tribe, manages a growing herd of 33 buffalo. Oldman said that a partnership with the Eastern Shoshone is on the table.
"I think that's definitely a possibility. There's no sense in having two private herds," he said. "I would think that we would try to get our numbers up to one or two hundred before we do that so we have a nice strong herd."
Jason Baldes, the Eastern Shoshone Tribe's buffalo representative and tribal partnerships coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, said the transfer was a victory for all tribes with a stake in buffalo restoration.
"I think we're finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of what we can do on this reservation," Baldes said. "This is a step towards something much grander."
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