Bison Research for the Native American Community
Martin, Director of Agriculture and Bison Education,
American bison and the Native American Indians lived together in harmony for
many years on the Great Plains before European pioneers and the railroad started
to move west. The Plains Indians
were almost totally dependent upon the bison. They were a source of food, shelter, utensils, and clothing
and most importantly spiritual strength. The
American bison sacrificed its life to keep the American Indian in existence. The
bison made the people strong because of the spiritual and emotional connection
they had with the bison. The
Indians watched the herds and gained an understanding of their ways and learned
from them. When the bison and
Native Americans started to be an obstacle to the westward expansion, the United
States government decided both had to be controlled and removed.
What was almost the end of the bison was also almost the end of the
both the Native Americans and the American bison are seeing an increase in their
numbers and are coming back. Again,
bison are serving as a source of healthy food and spiritual strength.
The bison can provide spiritual/cultural revitalization, ecological
restoration, education, and economic development.
Two major organizations have been developed to assist in this bison
restoration project. The
Intertribal Bison Cooperative (ITBC) based in Rapid City, SD consists of 48
tribes in 16 states. The mission of
the ITBC is to restore bison Indian Nations in a manner that is compatible with
their spiritual and cultural beliefs and practices. The ITBC was formed to coordinate and assist tribes in returning the
buffalo to Indian country. The role of the ITBC, as established by its
membership, is to act as a facilitator in coordinating education and training
programs, developing marketing strategies, coordinating the transfer of surplus
buffalo from national parks to tribal lands, and providing technical assistance
to its membership in developing sound management plans that will help each
tribal herd become a successful and self-sufficient operation.
The Northern Plains Bison Education
Network (NPBEN) is a regional network of 10 Tribal Colleges collaborating on
agricultural and natural resource program development, information
infrastructures, technology capacity building, and instructional delivery
through telecommunications. The
primary focus of the NPBEN is to replenish buffalo herds and to develop
culturally based formal and non-formal education opportunities that support the
concurrent development of Tribal land and human resources in rural communities
of Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
In 1994 Congress passed legislation
designating all Tribal colleges as Land Grant institutions. This created many
opportunities for the Tribal colleges that
were previously less accessible due to lack of resources.
Gaining the status of Land Grant institutions has sparked a desire in the
tribal colleges to venture further into the world of research.
Without research to investigate the dynamics of the bison and their
environment, the nature of the animals or the interaction of the bison with the
world around them cannot be fully understood.
Knowledge such as this can directly impact the well being of the Native
Americans who have relied upon the bison for life sustainment yesterday, today
Tribal colleges are not interested
in collaboration on research in an unnatural setting such as feedlots or in
settings that put the animals in an unbalanced condition.
The 1994 Land Grant institutions are interested in research that
investigates the philosophy of bison production in a natural, ecological and
The following is a list of some of
the tribal college research priorities:
∑ Diseases that affect bison and their immune system
∑ Nutritional requirements of bison
∑ The genetic impact that man has had on bison since captivity
∑ Studies on economic impact of bison on Native people
∑ Studies on the traditional method of preserving and storing bison meats and by-products
∑ The best way to convert marginal farmland to grassland
∑ Is grass-fed bison meat more nutritious in terms of minerals, vitamins cholesterol, protein, etc than grain-fed bison?
∑ Is weaning calves beneficial to the bison cows in terms of gestation, cycling and overall health?
∑ The relationship of bison to native birds, insects, and other wildlife in terms of a functional ecosystem
∑ Guidelines for tribal meat inspection and training inspectors to meet tribal, USDA, and the common market standards
∑ Using bison in CRP acreage and the impact they have on the acreagesThese are just some of the areas that the tribal colleges want to study and research in the near future. There are many more, but finding answers to these questions could make a significant impact on the lives of the bison and Native American people. The tribal collegesí investigation will help bring back the American bison to be a symbol of strength and freedom that it once was and always should be.