Taking Informed Action

InterTribal Buffalo Council

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The American bison, commonly referred to as the buffalo, is much more than an important historical source of food to the Northern Plains Native Nations. Tribal histories, cultures, traditions, and spiritual lives all connected deeply to the buffalo in a reciprocal relationship. Bison provided food and other resources and Northern Plains people honored and cared for the bison through ceremonies and other cultural protocols . Before European arrival in North America it is estimated that thirty to sixty million buffalo thrived on the Plains; but, by 1900, populations numbered only in the hundreds. This dramatic decline was largely the result of calculated actions on the part of the United States to destroy the buffalo in order to subjugate Native people; without buffalo, important values, beliefs, practices, as well as the diets of Northern Great Plains Nations suffered incredible loss.

Today, Native people and Nations on the Northern Plains continue to find innovative ways to restore bison populations and protect them from threats such as commercial hunting and disease. The InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC) is a leader in bison revitalization . The Council believes that reintroduction of the buffalo to tribal lands can help to heal the spirit of Indian peoples and protect the traditional relationships between Indian people and the buffalo. The Council is also dedicated to helping Native Nations build economic strength through the marketing of bison as a healthy food resource.

Jed Portman, "The Great American Bison," Need To Know, PBS, May 3, 2011; InterTribal Buffalo Council, "Who We Are," ITBC, 2011; Peter Winkler, "In the Beginning, Bison," Smithsonian Zoogoer, Jan/Feb, 2014

The InterTribal Buffalo Council Mission:
"Restoring buffalo to the Indian Country, to preserve our historical, cultural, traditional and spiritual relationship for future generations."
The InterTribal Buffalo Council includes fifty-eight tribes from nineteen states and a collective herd of over 15,000 buffalo.
InterTribal Buffalo Council, "Who We Are," ITBC, 2011

Courtesy of the InterTribal Buffalo Council
Discussion Questions

Why is it important for Native Nations of the Northern Great Plains to restore buffalo?

What are the potential challenges of building a coalition of fifty-eight different Native Nations?

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Opposing Perspectives

"Critical to their survival, bison not only provided American Indians with food, shelter and tools, but a model on how to live. To American Indians, bison also represent their spirit and remind them of how their lives were once lived, free and in harmony with nature. From beard to the tail, American Indian nations used every part of the bison. Because the bison provided many gifts—from tipis and clothing made from hides to soap from fat and tools made from bones—they were honored as relatives and paid tribute to through songs, dance and prayers."

Smithsonian Institution National Zoo 125 Years Later, "American Bison and American Indian Nations"
"The Buffalo was part of us, his flesh and blood being absorbed by us until it became our own flesh and blood. Our clothing, our tipis, everything we needed for life came from the buffalo's body. It was hard to say where the animals ended and the human began."

John (Fire) Lame Deer, Oglala-Lame Deer Seeker of Visions, With Richard Erdoes, 1972
Settlers and hide hunters killed buffalo to near extinction. Tourists shot the animals from the windows of trains as if the slaughter could last forever. For the U.S. Army the extinction of the bison was exclusively tied to the subjugation of the American Indians. Columbus Delano, Secretary of the Interior in 1873 said, "I would not seriously regret the total disappearance of the buffalo from our western plains, in its effect upon the Indians."
Peter Winkler, "In the Beginning, Bison," Smithsonian Zoogoer, Jan./Feb., 2014, ; J. West Phippen, "Kill Every Buffalo You Can! Every Buffalo Dead Is an Indian Gone," The Atlantic, May 13, 2016

Rath & Wright's buffalo hide yard in 1878, showing 40,000 buffalo hides, Dodge City, Kansas, 1937–1940. National Archives 520093

Parts of the Buffalo Used by American Indians


Mandan bull boat

Bull Boat and Paddle

Bull boat and paddle (Mandan), 1890-1905. Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota. NMAI 1/3884


Lakota/Western Sioux bag

Porcupine Quills Bag

Bag for storing porcupine quills (Lakota/Western Sioux), circa 1900. Standing Rock Reservation, NMAI 12/2311


Sioux bone sled


Sled (Sioux), circa 1900. South Dakota. NMAI 22/9158


Apsaalooke/Crow rope


Rope (Apsaalooke/Crow), circa 1880. Montana. NMAI 1/6609


Cheyenne mocassins

Women's Legging Moccasins

Women's legging moccasins (Northern Cheyennne), circa 1890. Oklahoma 10/5862

Discussion Questions

How would you describe the manner in which Native Americans utilized buffalo?

What did settlers gain from the buffalo?

How does the settler's use of buffalo compare with the ways in which Native Nations rely on the buffalo?

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One summer a long time ago, the seven sacred council fires of the Lakota Sioux came together and camped. The sun was strong, and the people were starving for there was no game. Two young men went out to hunt . . . Along the way, the two men met a beautiful young woman dressed in white; she floated as she walked. The woman told the Lakota about the value of the buffalo . . . As she walked away, she rolled over four times. Then, she turned into a white female buffalo calf. It is said, after this important day . . . the buffalo were plentiful. Many believe the birth of the buffalo calf "Miracle" in the United States on August 20, 1994 symbolizes the coming together of humanity . . .

John Lame Deer's telling in 1967, retrieved from Akta Lakota Museum Cultural Center.

Kiowa Buffalo Dance, 1940–1960. Al Momaday (Kiowa), New Mexico. Watercolor on canvas board. NMAI 259003

"Hunt and harvest the Trophy Buffalo you'll want to hang on your wall... Year round, we offer awesome World Record Class Trophy Buffalo Hunts. There are no seasonal restrictions on hunting the Buffalo, or White Bison, in Texas, which makes it a suitable trophy year round. Our White Buffalo bulls weigh 1200-1500lbs, and have horns in the 17-20 inch ranch... your white buffalo trophy will be huge!"

ICMN Staff, "$13,500 to Kill Sacred White Buffalo in Texas—Can This Be True?," Indian Country Today, Indian Country Media Network, March 6, 2012, originally published on Texas Hunt Lodge; Texas Hunt Lodge, "Buffalo Hunts," Texas Hunt Lodge, 2008-2017.

White Buffalo, 2009. Photograph by Steve Davies
Discussion Question

How would you describe the values reflected in these images?

Troy Heinert (ITBC Range Technician) has been in Rosebud, SD, the past few days helping Wayne Frederick and RST crew work 2014 surplus bison "on hold" so they can be released out into the pasture.
ITBC, Facebook, October 31, 2014

Courtesy of the InterTribal Buffalo Council
Discussion Questions

How would you describe the mood of this photograph?

What inferences can you make about the relationship between range technicians and the buffalo they are reintroducing into the herd?

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