Welcome back home: Bison return to Rocky Boy Reservation

The Daily Montanan, by Keith Schubert – October 27, 2021

Eleven Buffalo arrive on Rocky Boy Reservation as the start of a new herd. Chippewa Cree people gathered to welcome them.

BOX ELDER — Jason Belcourt said he teared up when the first of 11 buffalo arrived at the Rocky Boy reservation on Sunday night as part of an effort to reintroduce bison on the reservation, which have been absent from the land since the late 1990s.

“He jumped off the trailer went into the round pen, pawed and sniffed at the ground, and looked up at me,” he said. “It was a pretty powerful moment. That’s when I knew we did what we needed to do.”

Belcourt, the Chippewa Cree tribal sustainability coordinator, has been working with the tribe’s buffalo board and council, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the American Prairie Reserve for two years to establish a buffalo herd on the reservation.

The efforts came to fruition on Tuesday when hundreds of people gathered on the reservation and clung to the fence of the 1,200-acre pasture in anticipation of the bisons’ arrival.

Hundreds of people gathered on the reservation and clung to the fence of the 1,200-acre pasture waiting for the buffalo arrival.

With local drum group the Montana Cree playing in the background, people cheered as the 11 bison — six from APR and five from the CSKT — bolted from a holding pen and trampled out into their new home. The 2.5 to 3.5-year-old bison became quickly acquainted in the pen. When the gate opened they paused for a moment before taking off into the distance.

As the bison ran off, Belcourt high-fived and hugged everyone around him, including Melvin Morsette Jr., chairman of the tribe’s buffalo board.

“It was awesome. Absolutely awesome. Exhilarating. Emotional,” Morsette said. “It’s a good feeling to have them home. They’re one of the top deities, one of the top gods … in our spirituality they’re one of the main ones.”

Chippewa Cree buffalo board and other leaders pose for a photo at the bison donation event.

The day’s activities began with a pipe ceremony conducted by tribal elders. Throughout the day tribal leaders gave speeches and dances were performed to the drumming by the Montana Cree.

A day later, Belcourt said he is still processing Tuesday’s event.

“I can’t even put it into words,” he said. “It was just an emotionally charged day. Lots of hugs. Lots of thankfulness.”

After the bison disappeared into the horizon, a bald eagle — another significant animal in Native American culture — came into view soaring above.

“The eagle was just another good omen that we managed to do something really grand,” Belcourt said.

Two hundred years ago, roughly 30 million bison roamed North America from Central Canada to Mexico. Now, only an estimated 360,000 remain in the same area, with less than 10 percent living in conservation herds and the vast majority being raised for commercial purposes.

“It’s a healing thing to bring these animals back to where they once roamed in the thousands,” said Shannon Clairmont, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, who helped organize transferring six bison from CSKT to the Rocky Boy Reservation.

Clairmont said Montana tribes have long been pushing for the management of bison. In the 1800s, millions of bison were slaughtered by white settlers. Since then, CSKT and other tribal partners have worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore the population.

“In the past, the bison were part of part of our living. They gave us everything. They gave us food for the winter. They gave us shelter with their hides. They gave us clothing with their hides. And then they gave us also tools,” he said. “I was glad to see them come to another Montana tribe.”

The bison donated by CKST share the same genetics as those that roamed the land in the past, Clairmont said. “These bison here are relatives of the original bison here that were on the plains. It has been a long journey for them, but they’ve made it full circle.”

Senior Bison Restoration Manager for the American Prairie Reserve Scott Heidebrink was in attendance Tuesday. “This is amazing because most of the time, we’re supplementing into herds, and so actually being on the ground floor starting a herd is really special,” he said.

The prairie reserve started in 2005 aiming to bring back a bison population that had been absent from the landscape for more than 120 years. Now, it has a herd of 813 and has donated 404 to tribal and conservation herds.

Of those donations, 242 have been to Montana tribes — 87 to the Fork Peck Indian Reservation, 81 to the Blackfeet Nation, 74 to the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, and now five more to the Rocky Boy Reservation.

Belcourt said he hopes the bison will help restore a sense of cultural pride for native youth.

“When you hear about a young person taking their life, I can’t help but think it’s from the trauma induced by efforts to strip of us of our culture,” he said. “This buffalo is going to remind us of our language, culture, and the teachings that we are not to hurt ourselves.”

Kids from Rocky Boy and Box Elder schools were bused in on Tuesday to witness the donation.

“It’s a historical event and I’m thankful for the kids to be able to witness it,” said Dustin Whitford, the tribe’s language preservation officer. But, he said, it’s not just about the bison.

“We can’t just preserve the existence of buffalo here; the language has to go along with it,” he said. “‘Pahskahmotos’ is the word we use for the Buffalo. And we consider it to be like a grandfather or grandmother. That’s how much we respect them.”

Of the 7,000 enrolled people, Whitford estimated there are only around 120 fluent speakers on the reservation, nearly all of which are elders.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Rounds, Heinrich Introduce Indian Buffalo Management Act

NBA Weekly Update for October 29, 2021

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced the bipartisan Indian Buffalo Management Act, legislation to create a permanent buffalo program at the U.S. Department of the Interior and help promote and develop tribal capacity to manage buffalo.

 “The American buffalo is a treasured animal and resource for Native American communities across the United States,” said Rounds. “The Indian Buffalo Management Act gives tribes the capacity to manage their buffalo populations, utilize the many benefits from buffalo and provide input into federal buffalo management policy. I am committed to helping tribes in South Dakota restore their historical and cultural ties to buffalo herds and make certain that this is a meaningful step for Native American communities.” 

“The American buffalo, or bison, is central to the culture and history of many of our tribal nations, including a number in New Mexico,” said Heinrich. “That’s why I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation with Senator Rounds to provide Tribal communities with access to additional resources and opportunities to manage these revered animals and restore their habitat.”

“The Indian Buffalo Management Act will restore the cultural, historical, spiritual and traditional connection between buffalo and tribal people; create employment and economic opportunities; and provide the Tribe with access to traditional, healthy and self-sustaining food source,” said Clyde Estes, Chairman of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. “We thank Senator Rounds for working with us and listening to our request of introducing this important legislation in the United States Senate.”

“Our goal has always been to expand our buffalo herd to produce one large enough to supplement our Food Distribution Program, to assist our elders when they need buffalo meats or parts for a ceremony and to work with our local schools to aid in the educational benefits of buffalo restoration,” said Mike Faith, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Vice Chairman of the InterTribal Buffalo Council. “We greatly appreciate the leadership of Senator Rounds and his colleagues in introducing this legislation that will help us reach those goals. As the Lakota Holy Man, John Fire Lame Deer once said, ‘The Buffalo gave us everything we needed.’ This legislation is therefore a very positive development.”

“Senators Rounds, Heinrich and the others who have stepped up to introduce this bill are to be commended,” said Ervin Carlson, President of the InterTribal Buffalo Council headquartered in Rapid City. “It is simply impossible to overstate both the importance of the buffalo to the Indian people and the damage that was done when the buffalo were nearly wiped out. By helping tribes reestablish buffalo herds on our reservation lands, the Congress will help us reconnect with a keystone of our historic culture as well as create jobs and an important source of protein that our people truly need.” 

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Bison World Means Big Things for Jamestown

Bison World Means Big Things for Jamestown

(From the Jamestown Sun)

Don’t ya just love great thinkers?

Walt Disney had his skeptics when he first planned for an entertainment site in a Florida swamp.

Bison World, intended for Jamestown, ND, in many ways makes more sense for a 21st century North Dakota than Disney’s ideas did midway the 20th century.

Disney’s was based on his own cartoon characters. It’s said he told inquirers that he first had the idea for a new kind of amusement park when he took his young daughters out for the weekend and found that “…existing kids’ parks and fairs were often dirty, sleazy, money-grubbing places.”

In one year, he had a clean and enjoyable amusement park suitable for families.

Bison World will be a different sort of amusement park. It would be geared toward families and history, for sure. But it would be educational, visually spectacular and a location where, like the National Buffalo Museum, the real west can be seen, touched and experienced.

Bison World is based on Jamestown’s existing monikers of being the Buffalo City of North Dakota: the National Buffalo Museum and its 26-foot-tall “pet” bison (Elmer Petersen’s “World’s Biggest Buffalo,” circa 1959) and the herd of live bison residing along Interstate 94.

The state of North Dakota even uses bison on its license plates, so it’s a no-brainer that Jamestown is perfect for a bison-themed park.

Brian Lunde is among the creative minds who … like Petersen’s, has become one of the “visionaries” in and for Jamestown. The names of many planners have been in the paper and in this column. Jamestown is blessed to have so many generous and creative thinkers plotting the future of the city. The bison is an important creature in our history here, but also in our country’s history.

JAMESTOWN, N.D. (NewsDakota.com)—The Jamestown Stutsman Development Corporation (JSDC) has released the results of a financial forecast of the proposed Bison World theme park near Jamestown.

The compilation of the forecasted financial information was conducted by Eide Bailly, one of the nation’s leading accounting and business advisory firms.

The forecast demonstrates that the planned tourism attraction on state-owned land adjacent to I-94 will be a successful economic development and diversification project for North Dakota. Nearly all of the projected financial benefits will flow back to the state as Legacy Fund earnings or taxes into the general fund if the investment is made from the state’s $8.7 billion dollar Legacy Fund.

The forecasted financial statements reflect that the project would be a highly profitable investment for the state. The five-year projected returns show a range between $34 and $39.3 million flowing to the state from a $72.5 million dollar investment, a return of over 50%. The average annual return would be between $6.8 and $7.8 million or 11%. State sales tax revenues on over $68 million dollars in tickets and merchandise in just the first five years are also expected according to the study which compiled data from the North Dakota Department of Commerce and Apogee Attractions, a leading national theme park designer and operator.

The projected return on investment also shows that the Bison World attraction would surpass the average annual performance of the Legacy Fund for the last five years and the last 10 years. In fact, in the fifth year of operations, the project’s 12.6% return would double the current ten-year average return of the Legacy Fund.

“This information confirms what we believed from the beginning as we planned this project. It will be a great investment for North Dakota,” said Connie Ova, CEO of JSDC. “In fact, all of the scenarios evaluated show a profitable project. We are confident that this project will surpass the returns the state is currently getting from its Legacy Fund investments outside our state and outside our country.”

Supporters of the project are expected to present their theme park plans and financial projections to a formal “vetting committee” of the State Investment Board in the coming days. Economic development projects in North Dakota are now urged to seek investments from the state’s sovereign wealth fund (Legacy Fund) under a new state law (HB 1425) enacted during the last legislative session.

Bison World was presented as the kind of project that would access the Legacy Fund when H.B 1425 passed the legislature overwhelmingly. Besides its many benefits for the tourism industry, the project will also help diversify North Dakota’s economy, provide a solid financial return to the taxpayers and turn non-productive state land into a revenue producing investment.

North Dakota’s tourism director, Sara Otte Coleman, said that “Bison World—A Legendary Experience” will add a destination attraction to expand our state’s tourism industry.

“The addition of a major attraction between Fargo and Bismarck on I-94 would attract additional travelers looking to spend time in North Dakota.” Otte Coleman said. “Most of our tourists come from states east of us. Our goal is to provide clusters of activities that draw new visitors and keep them in the state longer. If we can get them off the interstate and into a major attraction, we can cross-promote with other destinations across North Dakota. Bison World accomplishes that goal.”

Bison World will likely become the number one tourist attraction in the state drawing over 300,000 paid attendees annually, according to Jamestown Tourism Director Searle Swedlund. He added that the project “is located at one of the country’s last and best undeveloped interstate exits for tourism with over 8.8 million people passing by it each year.”

In releasing the study, Ova said the final architectural, civil engineering and schematic design work on the project is expected to be completed in early to mid-October and will be released at that time. The entire report is available upon request from Connie Ova CEO of JSDC.

Additional Highlights
— Significant additional revenues from naming rights, corporate sponsorships, private functions and licensing agreements could increase the revenue projections—and return on investment estimates—but are too early to predict at this time.

— The Bison World project is expected to hire some 400 employees and, during the first five years in operation, pay over $21 million in salaries and benefits.

— The “Probable Market Share Attendance” analysis projects an average of 227,500 paid attendees each year. In the “High Market Share Attendance” analysis, the average grows to 262,100. The “High Market Share Attendance” scenario projects nearly 173,00 more paid attendees to Bison World in the first five years than was projected by Apogee Attractions in their formal market study. (One Apogee Attraction analysis outside of this study, however, does show that paid attendance could surpass 300,000 paid attendees annually).

— All four scenarios reflected in the report show a profitable project for North Dakota. Even in the “stress test” or “breakeven attendance” analysis, where net income from ticket sales, merchandise sales and musical shows is “zeroed out,” the project still returns a profit every year due to sales and income taxes that continue to flow to the state from the project.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Register for the NBA’s October Regional

Register for the NBA’s October Regional
Bison Management Webinars
Free to NBA Members!

Register now for the NBA’s inaugural Regional Bison Management Webinar Series!

All webinars are free to NBA members and will be hosted on the Zoom platform. Presentations will be recorded for later viewing in the NBA member’s area. See the full agenda below and register at the following Zoom links:

East https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_G0vU5PAjST6CPwLJUSoXnw

West https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_WGSE-lrWTCaocw_CBGsntw

North https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_iJ7060DwQWy5WcgFVvr0Gg

South https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_2iL7rhorTbSvcQSyM7Jd-A

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

ND Capital Gallery Honors Buffalo with Bison Ballet Exhibit

ND Capital Gallery Honors Buffalo with Bison Ballet Exhibit

Dave Borlaug holds a “Bison Ballet” exhibit painted by Sally Chernenko at The Capitol Gallery in downtown Bismarck.

“One of the most remarkable displays we’ve ever had is the Bison Ballet Exhibit,” says David Borlaug, Co-Director of The Capital Gallery. “22 artists with 70 pieces.”

Some of the artists exhibiting are Kaye Burian, Sam Coleman, James McCulloch, Walter Piehl, Marcella Rose, Monte Yellow Bird and Butch Thunder Hawk.

“Each, in their own way, expressing how these ‘Primas of the Plains,’ look though their mind’s eye,” adds co-director Marci Narum. “From highly detailed, representational paintings, to expressive or abstract, along with bronzes and other three-dimensional works, it’s a fascinating display.”

It’s true that when people think about North Dakota, one of the first things to come to mind is bison—or buffalo. They are an inspiration to many.

“No subject matter has been more popular. I mean, here we are on the Northern Plains. The monarch of the plains. But whether it’s realistic, expressive or abstract people love Bison,” said Borlaug.

Branches of The Capital Gallery are also in Fargo and Medora—in Medora at the Herald Schafer Heritage Center. Borlaug says after the show closes Oct 19, they will be restaging exhibits and moving art work back and forth between the three Galleries. 

All items are for sale, and the Galleries also have gift shops. Open Monday through Saturday 10 am-5 pm. Sundays by appointment.

It’s the love for bison in the Peace Garden State that has artists like Linda Donlin wanting to take part in the show.

“We could go out to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and see them and photograph them and appreciate the beauty and understand what they’ve meant to the people that came before us. And that for the people that will go ahead of us and still have them to appreciate,” explained Donlin.

Donlin’s knife painting method is seen in both of the pieces of art she has on display in the Bison Ballet.

In Spring Storm, she has a mother and her calf grazing in the Badlands, and in A Bison Rising, she chose to focus on the beauty of the animal.

“They have such beautiful, soulful eyes and I wanted to show this very majestic bison on a bluff and looking out and have this beautiful sunrise behind him. Then the name just came to me: A Bison Rising,” said Donlin.

The gallery is covered in one-of-a-kind renditions of the bison.

“From ceramic to bronze sculptures to clay and of course the myriad of canvasses,” explained Borlaug.

Borlaug says Bison Ballet also shows an array of artists from newcomers to familiar faces they’ve worked with in the past. (Credits to Bismarck Tribune and Nexstar Media, 2021.)

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Bison Center Construction in Park Progressing Well

 RAPID CITY — Construction of the Bison Center in Custer State Park is progressing nicely, even as officials make plans for even more building improvements in the park.

Scott Simpson, director of the state parks and recreation division told the Game, Fish and Parks Commission that the majority of the dirt work and utility work is completed at the planned Bison Center. Water lines have been run, footings have been poured and walls are getting ready be poured before winter, he said. The building, Simpson said, is a package that will be shipped as soon as crews have completed the pours and have everything in place.

“Right now we are making sure that the area looks good for Roundup,” Simpson said about the annual Buffalo Roundup that is scheduled for Sept. 23-25. “We want to make sure that our construction doesn’t impact that event.”

The Bison Center is a $5 million building that will serve as a large visitor’s center. It’s primary purpose will be to tell the story of the bison, including the importance of buffalo to manage Custer State Park and the animal’s importance to the Native American culture.  The project is funded primarily with a $4 million gift from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, a $500,000 allocation from the S.D. Legislature, $170,000 from the S.D. Parks and Wildlife Foundation, and other private donations.

During his presentation to the commission, Simpson also said the department is looking into options for improving the Sylvan Lake Store. He explained that Custer State Park has a concessionaire that pays a franchise fee to the state for operations. Most of that money is used to pay off the state’s bond obligations for improvements in the park, but lately the revenues have greatly exceeded the amount of the payment, leaving the park with a reserve amount. By law, the state is required to use those additional revenues to make improvements in the park or to enhance concessions.

“One of the biggest sore spots we have in the park is Sylvan Lake,” Simpson said. “It’s a building that has lived its life cycle.”

Simpson said park staff is working with an architect who will help the department come up with a plan to improve the building, and give cost estimates. He hopes to be able to start construction in the fall of 2022.

When Bison Attack in Yellowstone, They Don’t Care If It’s a Car

(From Laramie Live)

If you’ve gone to YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or any other type of social media page, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Bison getting angry. 2021 has been a record setting year for attendance in Yellowstone National Park and we’ve seen MANY videos, pictures and heard stories of Bison/Human interactions. Stay 25 yards away from bison when you see them in Yellowstone.

The American Bison is a magnificent sight! They’re big, bad and don’t take crap off of anyone or anything. According to this first video that was put up this past Augusts of a Bison going head first into the rear bumper of a Chevy Impala and rips it off.



Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

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