A round of applause thunderous enough to be heard over stampeding hooves is in order for the Blackfeet Nation, which recently released a herd of wild buffalo onto tribal lands after years of restoration efforts.
After growing the herd in captivation and preparing them for release for seven years, the tribe transferred the buffalo to tribal lands near Chief Mountain in the northwest corner of the reservation bordering Montana’s Glacier National Park, The Missoulian reported. The outlet also shared a video of the momentous event.
Throughout the 1800s, U.S. settlers and soldiers killed millions of buffalo while cattle-spread disease wreaked havoc on the survivors. According to The Missoulian, this killing, called “the Great Slaughter,” left fewer than 1,000 buffalo roaming the area.
KRTV Great Falls reported that the newly-released free-roaming herd is directly descended from buffalo that lived on these lands 150 years ago. While many tribes have domestic herds, this is the first time a sovereign Indigenous nation has returned free-roaming buffalo to their native habitat, according to The Flathead Beacon.
The return of the herd will benefit both the environment and the Blackfeet Nation. The buffalo is a keynote species and helps create habitats for many plant and animal species. As they roam and forage, their hooves aerate the soil, which aids in plant growth and disperses native seeds.
The buffalo is also central to the tribe culturally, and Lauren Monroe Jr., a Blackfeet Councilman, told The Missoulian he thinks the free-roaming herd will reconnect them to their history and bring tourism dollars to the reservation.
The Missoulian reported that as he watched the herd run free, Monroe Jr. said, “It was absolutely momentous as a Blackfeet to be on our land within our sovereignty and do this. We’re the leaders. We’re choosing our future as we see it.”
Helen Augare, who leads the Blackfeet Community College’s Native Science Field Center, told The Flathead Beacon, “It’s fitting that the first one that jumped out was a calf, because this is our future. This is forever. This is how we rebuild. This is how we restore. This is how we heal.”
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