Nation, The People are depending upon you, so we pray
you will be healthy"
- Lakota Song.
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
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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GIVE ME A HOME
By 1902, just 23 wild bison remained
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.
skulls piled high in the late 1800s
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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