Bison and sovereignty returning to Blackfeet nation
By Jenny Hijazi in Browning, Montana
A crisp chill of early October cuts through the morning air near Browning, Mont. The looming shadow of Glacier National Park, jagged peaks of dark purple-grey against the jewel-blue horizon, stands sentinel to the west. Rolling hills of gold and tan stretch for as far as the eye can see in every direction, intersected by Highway 2 and spattered with the moving specks of cattle, lines of fence, and now buffalo roaming.
Ervin Carlson exits his pick-up truck, in a denim jacket and white cowboy hat, seemingly unfazed by the brisk grip of the early morning weather. Carlson, president of the Intertribal Buffalo Council, surveys the Blackfeet Nation Bison Reserve, home to buffalo that had been missing from these lands for decades. For many of the calves now living on the reservation, they are returning to the same territory where their ancestors were decimated by Anglo settlers in the late nineteenth century.
In Sept. 2014, tribes from the Blackfoot Confederacy signed a treaty between their own respective governments, pledging to reintroduce the buffalo onto Blackfeet land and to maintain conservation and educational efforts. In April 2014, 90 bison calves were shipped from Elk Island in Canada to a 9000 acre reserve on the Blackfeet reservation. Programs, research and curriculum have been developed in recent years to preserve the cultural, material, environmental and spiritual integrity of the buffalo. In a land split by the forty-ninth parallel, and near the 110th meridian, sister tribes are coming together from across the border to collaborate and establish sovereignty over their ancestral lands.
Today, bison that are descendents of the original herd captured on Blackfeet land, roam a 9,000 acre reserve outside of Browning, Montana. Robert Hall, a language teacher at the Blackfeet Community College, explains the cultural, spiritual and political importance of having buffalo back on their lands.
A Chronology of Betrayal and Bison Annihilation
During the nineteenth century, bison were nearly hunted out of extinction. Anglo land-grab treaties and settler encroachment took a huge toll on the main source of sustenance for the Blackfeet, leading to the death of hundreds.
Today, nearly two centuries later, treaties concerning bison land are being signed once again, this time solely on the terms of the Blackfeet and their sister tribes. And, the bison that many believed were gone for good, are once again grazing on Blackfeet territory.