Millions of dollars will be injected into the transfer of the buffalo to Native American lands, returning the iconic animal to its tribal grasslands under the stewardship of Indigenous communities, whose deep historical connections to the burly beast date back centuries.
“The buffalo has just as long a connection to Indigenous people as we have to it,” explains Troy Heinert, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. “They are not just a number or a commodity; this is returning a relative to its rightful place.”
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a U.S. Cabinet secretary, has announced $25 million in federal spending to restore herds as part of bison conservation efforts. Half of the spending will go to the National Park Service. The reminder will be divided between the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, including $1 million to establish an apprenticeship program for tribes to learn how to manage bison. Today, 82 tribes have 20,000 bison in 65 herds. As Native Americans wish to reclaim stewardship of the animals, the 11,000 bison in herds on public lands in 12 states overseen by the Interior Department will be gradually transferred to tribal lands in cooperation with the South Dakota-based InterTribal Buffalo Council. Iconic to the American West, the buffalo remain “functionally extinct” despite its return being deemed a conservation success, hence the efforts deployed to reintroduce the animal to tribal lands and restore the grasslands it depends on.