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Forever Wild

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Tatanka: The Spirit Animal 3 pages: | 1 | 2 | 3 |

Photo of bison

"Buffalo Nation, The People are depending upon you, so we pray you will be healthy"
- Lakota Song.

There is hardly a creature more emblematic of the American frontier than the bison. With its woolly coat and huge muscles, bison once thrived in most of North America, grazing on the grasslands that stretched across the continent. Fossil evidence and historical accounts indicate that somewhere between 30 and 60 million bison roamed the land when the first Europeans landed on these shores.

Bison were vital to a number of Native American tribes, who hunted the animals for their meat, hides, bones and horns. Unsurprisingly, bison occupied a central role in many tribal cultures and religions. Even the bison skull served as an altar in religious ceremonies. Native American empathy for this animal only deepened throughout the 1800's, when white America began developing the west, marginalizing native cultures and bison alike.
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By 1902, just 23 wild bison remained

The U. S. Federal Government and the westward expansion encouraged the bison slaughter, and over the course of just a few decades, millions upon millions were killed. They were hunted for their meat and hides, sent back East in large quantities; they were hunted for sport, their massive carcasses left to decay on the plains; they were hunted, in part, to destabilize, or "civilize," Native American tribes.

Photo of bison skulls
Bison skulls piled high in the late 1800s  

By 1885, no more than 1,000 bison remained in North America. In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant established Yellowstone National Park, the world's first federal preserve, in part to save the bison. But poachers continued to take their toll on the population and by 1902, just 23 wild bison remained. Since ranchers kept private herds on their lands, bison as a species were never in danger of extinction. These private stocks were used to replenish the Yellowstone population. Today, there are some 2,500 wild bison in the park, and hundreds of thousands in private herds throughout the U.S. Eight thousand of these belong to the Intertribal Bison Cooperative (ITBC), a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring the connection between bison and Native Americans.

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3 pages: | 1 | 2 | 3 |

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