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Buffalo Nation

American Indian Efforts to Restore the Bison

Ken Zontek

Publication Year: 2007

The gruesome story of the devastation of buffalo herds in the late nineteenth century has become uncomfortably familiar. A less familiar story, but a hopeful one for the future, is Ken Zontek’s account of Native peoples’ efforts to repopulate the Plains with a healthy, viable bison population. Interspersing scientific hypothesis with Native oral traditions and interviews, Buffalo Nation provides a brief history of bison and human interaction from the Paleolithic era to present preservation efforts.
Zontek’s history of bison restoration efforts is also a history of North American Native peoples’ pursuit of political and cultural autonomy, revealing how Native peoples’ ability to help the bison has fluctuated with their overall struggle. Beginning in the 1870s, Native North Americans established captive bison breeding programs despite the Wounded Knee Massacre and a massive onslaught on Native cultural and religious practices. These preservation efforts were so successful that a significant percentage of bison today carry the bloodlines of these original Native-sponsored herds. At the end of the twentieth century, more than fifty tribes banded together to form the Intertribal Bison Cooperative. This group has made significant progress in restoring bison herds in the United States, while Canadian First Nations work with national parks and other government entities to select and manage free-ranging herds.
Buffalo Nation offers insights into the ways that the Native North American effort to restore the buffalo nation inspires discourse in cultural perseverance, environmentalism, politics, regionalism, spirituality, and the very essence of human-animal interaction.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii


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pp. viii-ix

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pp. xi-xii

Numerous individuals contributed to the completion of this work, and all warrant gratitude to varying degrees. First and foremost, I would like to thank the many Native people who assisted me in telling the remarkable story of bison restoration. Most notably, Jim Garrett, who embodies the focus of this study in Native American bison landscape stewardship, provided keen...

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pp. xiii-xvi

Over the past century and a quarter, a phenomenal story of cultural perseverance has unraveled in Indian Country, as Native Americans have sought to preserve the bison as an extension of preserving themselves and their culture.1 Many variables, including questions over the very survival of some tribes, were formed in Native America as a result of the dislocation of the...

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1. A Relationship from Time Immemorial [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 1-32

Bison and Native Americans—in the historical context the two entities seem inseparable. Yet they also merge in contemporary analysis. Native Americans maintain a continuous relationship with the “buffalo nation” that extends back to time immemorial.1 These indigenous people inculcate the historic...

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2. Saving the Buffalo Nation [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 33-52

Despite the tragedy defining the end of the buffalo days, some remarkable and uplifting developments were taking place simultaneous to it. During the decade and a half from 1875 to 1890 the wild bison population teetered on the brink of extinction, particularly south of the parklands and boreal forest of present northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories. In...

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3. Indians and Buffalo, 1890–1990s [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 53-74

In 1997, as he watched several bison leave a corral and emerge onto the prairie, much to the delight of several Native American onlookers including students from a local school, Lakota environmental scholar Jim Garrett commented: “The resurgence of the buffalo. That’s happening. But it’s happening a hundred years later.”1 His observation hearkened back to...

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4. The Intertribal Bison Cooperative [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 75-98

A pan-Indian buffalo restoration movement became a reality in the winter of 1991 when representatives of more than a dozen tribes from across the western United States gathered in South Dakota to create an umbrella organization aimed at bringing back the buffalo nation. The Intertribal Bison Cooperative, more often referred to as the itbc, formally came into...

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5. The Yellowstone Crisis [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 99-117

Despite a century of steadily increasing bison population since the Yellowstone buffalo population’s nadir in 1902, the winter crisis of 1997 marked both the worst slaughter of “free-roaming” bison in the twentieth century and the worst slaughter of Yellowstone bison since the park’s establishment...

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6. A Comparative Perspective on Canada’s Native Restoration of the Bison [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 119-142

A comparison between the bison restoration effort of Canada and that of the United States yields similarities as well as differences. On the surface, the overall plight and salvation of the bison appears the same. The European hegemony extended over the indigenous countryside, resulting in a...

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7. Conclusion [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 143-155

Perhaps the most striking example of the indigenous effort to restore the bison landscape comes from the range of the northern bison. When the various layers of government and local constituents join with Native people as advocates for the buffalo nation, then free-ranging wild bison can exist....

8. Cheyenne River Lakota: Photo Essay

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pp. 157-169

Appendix. ITBC Bison Program Survey Results

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pp. 171-177


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pp. 179-215

List of References

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pp. 217-242


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pp. 243-249

E-ISBN-13: 9780803207400
E-ISBN-10: 0803207409

Page Count: 439
Illustrations: Illus., maps
Publication Year: 2007