Bison have had another important ally in their comeback: Native Americans. For more than 10,000 years, bison have served as the cultural and spiritual lifeblood of many Native American tribes.
“Our ancestors used every part of the buffalo for food, shelter, and clothing,” says Dianne Amiotte-Seidel. She’s a member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. (Buffalo is another term for bison.)
Amiotte-Seidel works at the Intertribal Buffalo Council, an organization of 62 tribes dedicated to bringing bison back. In 1991, the council began breeding bison and raising them on protected land. They started with just a few hundred. Native Americans now have 15,000 buffalo across the country.
The council also supports efforts for teaching students the importance bison have played in Native American history. Some schools, like the Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, invite Lakota students to witness a ceremonial buffalo kill.
Throughout the Lakota’s history, these sacred events provided food and clothing for the community. “Without the buffalo, there would be no Lakota,” says Roger White Eyes, a teacher at Red Cloud.
And without the Lakota and other tribes, there might have been no buffalo comeback.