|Buffalo (American bison) have inhabited North America for more than 200,000 years.
It was over-hunted nearly to extinction, but with careful breeding programs and
preserves to protect them the buffalo has been removed from the Endangered
Before the arrival of white settlers, bison herds stretched from the Atlantic
seaboard to the Rocky Mountains and from Canada to Mexico. Herds totalling more
than 60 million buffalo were hunted by Native Americans who sustainably harvested
approximately two million buffalo a year.
By 1800, there were no wild buffalo east of the Mississippi; by 1900 only 39 of the
animals survived -- all within the protected confines of Yellowstone National Park.
The buffalo herds were decimated, more than anything else, as part of a planned
military strategy designed to deprive the native Plains peoples of their primary source
of meat, clothing and shelter. In 1874 Congress passed a bill to save the buffalo,
but President Grant declined to sign it, thereby ensuring the destruction of the native
Plains culture and accelerating the process of forcing Indians onto federal
Today buffalo herds in the US number about 75,000 animals, with 60,000 on private
lands and the remainder on federal and state lands. The largest "wild" herd -2400
strong -- is found in Yellowstone National Park.
Today Native Americans suffer from the symptoms of this cultural destruction --
alcoholism, illness, broken homes, depression, suicide and pockets of poverty far
worse than any in urban ghettos. The poorest county in the US is Shannon County,
South Dakota, home of the Lakota Sioux, the proud people depicted in the Academy
Award-winning Dances With Wolves.
Reestablishing the Great Plains buffalo herds would not only be a dramatic and
inspirational step toward restoring the original ecology of one of the nation's degraded
bioregions, it would also return to Native Americans a vital natural resource that
could make them self-supporting while revitalizing their religion and culture. Research
on Indian diet suggests that a return to a diet of buffalo meat could significantly
lower the disease rates for diabetes, heart disease and other dietary ailments.
Bison have always been of paramount importance to the American Indians who live on
the plains of North America and a number of tribes currently have active bison
herds, the Crow and Oglala Sioux and the Northern Cheyenne among them.
George, J. C. The Buffalo Are Back. 2011.