Bison coming “home” to Montana Indian reservation after 140 years

Descendants of a bison herd captured and sent to Canada more than 140 years ago will be relocated to a Montana American Indian reservation next month, in what tribal leaders bill as a homecoming for a species emblematic of their traditions.

The shipment of animals from Alberta’s Elk Island National Park to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation follows a 2014 treaty among tribes in the United States and Canada. That agreement aims to restore bison to areas of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains where millions once roamed.

“For thousands of years the Blackfeet lived among the buffalo here. The buffalo sustained our way of life, provided our food, clothing, shelter,” Blackfeet Chairman Harry Barnes said. “It became part of our spiritual being. We want to return the buffalo.”

The lineage of Elk Island’s bison, which experts say are free of cattle genes, traces back to a small group of animals captured by several American Indians on Blackfeet land just south of Canada.

The relocation comes as the restoration of genetically-pure bison to the West’s grasslands and forests have gained traction. The efforts include the relocation of some genetically-pure bison from Yellowstone National Park to two Indian reservations in eastern and central Montana.

The tribes – the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation and the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes of the Fort Belknap Reservations – are signatories to the 2014 treaty.

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