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article imageCanada, U.S. tribes sign treaty to restore bison to Great Plains

By Karen Graham     Sep 24, 2014 in Environment
Browning - A historic event took place on Tuesday when leaders from 11 native tribes in Alberta and Montana signed a treaty establishing an inter-tribal alliance that will restore bison to areas of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains.
The daylong ceremony leading up to the signing of the treaty was held on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning Montana. It marked the first treaty among the American Indian tribes and First Nations since a number of treaties were put into place governing hunting rights over 150 years ago.
The Northern Tribes Buffalo Treaty will establish an alliance between the tribes to restore the buffalo on reserve and co-managed lands within Canada and the U.S.. Keith Aune, the director of bison programs with the Wildlife Conservation Society said, “This is a historic moment that we hope will translate into a conservation movement among Great Plains Tribes." Aune said the treaty also has some parallels with the 1855 Lame Bull Treaty, a peace treaty that also gave hunting rights to the tribes.
The Blackfeet Reservation in Montana.
The Blackfeet Reservation in Montana.
The treaty-signing ceremony brought together the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation and the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes of the Fort Belknap Reservations. Other tribes included the Blood Tribe, Siksika Nation, Piikani Nation, Tsuu T’ina Nation and several other tribes.
Leroy Littlebear is an elder with the Blood Tribe, as well as a professor at the University of Lethbridge. He attended the ceremony, and said the treaty has been in the works for almost five years. "It’s a very grassroots effort,” he said. “Elders were feeling like our younger generation were forgetting a lot of their culture, language and so on. A large part of Northern Plains culture surrounds the buffalo.”
The treaty is designed to bring the American bison, or buffalo, back to their respective lands, which make up more than 6.4 million acres combined in the U.S. and Canada. This will allow the buffalo to roam freely across the international border and restore the buffalo to the key role in the food, spiritual and economic place they once had with the native tribes.
The treaty's vision of large herds of bison roaming freely may take many years, especially with possible opposition from the livestock industry. "I can't say how many years. It's going to be a while and of course there's such big resistance in Montana against buffalo," said Ervin Carlson a Blackfeet member and president of the 56-tribe Inter Tribal buffalo council. "But within our territory, hopefully, someday."
Photograph from the mid-1870s of a pile of American bison skulls waiting to be ground for fertilizer...
Photograph from the mid-1870s of a pile of American bison skulls waiting to be ground for fertilizer.
Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library
Before the great buffalo slaughter began in the 1800s, millions of American bison freely roamed the Great Plains of the U.S.. Native tribal lore talks of the herds being so large it would take days for them to cross in front of someone's eyes. Settlers and buffalo hunters decimated the herds until by the 1880s, there were only 541 bison left.
Six captive herds were saved between 1873 and 1904 by private individuals and the federal government, in Yellowstone National Park as well as by Canada in what was to become the Wood Buffalo National Park,
Today there are about 500,000 American bison on non-public lands and 30,000 more on reserves. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 15,000 are considered to be wild, free-range bison, not confined by fencing.
Mountain goats on Logan s Pass  Glacier National Park.
Mountain goats on Logan's Pass, Glacier National Park.
Brad Emerson
According to the treaty, the first site selected for the reintroduction of the bison will be along the Rocky Mountain Front. This site will also include the Blackfeet Reservation bordering Glacier National Park and a number of smaller First Nation reserves. On the Canadian side of the border, plans call for the reintroduction of 30 to 59 bison to start with. Eventually, the plan will introduce from 600 to 1,000 bison into the back-country, including Banff National Forest.
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