‘Just delighted’: Chippewa Cree tribe harvests first bison in decades | State and Region
History was made earlier this week when the Chippewa Cree tribe harvested their first bison in decades.
Members of Rocky Boy Buffalo Project council used a gun to harvest the bison. The Buffalo Project, which manages the tribe’s herd, donated 80 pounds of buffalo meat to the upcoming youth powwow and the remaining 380 pounds to the tribe’s food bank.
“We’re just thrilled,” said Jason Belcourt, the tribe’s sustainability coordinator. “We wanted to give this buffalo back to the community and what better way to do that?”
Bison have not roamed the Rocky Boy reservation since the 1990s. Belcourt said at the time that the tribe had no money allocated to support the herd. Without funds for management, fencing and equipment, the herd dwindled.
But that changed when the Chippewa Cree tribe welcomed the return of bison to their tribal lands in October. The American Prairie Reserve donated nine, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes donated five. This spring, six bison were born, the first on the reserve in decades.
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Belcourt said that in order for the herd to be sustainable, the tribe hopes to maintain a ratio of 60% cows to 40% bulls. To do this, the tribe will harvest two more bulls this year.
Native Americans used bison for food, shelter, clothing and ceremonial purposes, but in the 1800s settlers killed millions of bison, in part to devastate the Indigenous communities that depended on them.
Now Belcourt said seeing the animals in the reserve’s landscape “is a gift”.
“It’s healthier meat,” he says. “We know where it came from. We know what it eats. Buffalo meat has been in our systems — in our DNA — for centuries, so it’s really good to put it back in our systems. We can also feel good about it, knowing we brought it up.
Belcourt said the Rocky Boy Buffalo project has big plans. In three years, they hope to increase the herd to 30 head, and in 10 or 15 years, they hope to manage 150.
“It will help us become sustainable,” he said. “Then we can market and sell meat and offer hunts of all kinds. And there are so many spinoffs you can do with skins and skulls.
The Rocky Boy Buffalo Project relies primarily on grants and donations for funding. Belcourt therefore hopes that the marketing of bison meat will help generate income for the program.
Belcourt said bison will feed the tribal community in more ways than one.
“To be sustainable as a tribal nation, we need to make sure we have the ability to feed our people, provide good water for our people, and a source of energy,” Belcourt said. “We do this to get a sense of who we are culturally, and the bison helps a lot with that.”