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Jeff Dodge | The SOURCE
Colorado State University and its partners have been sending additional groups of bison from the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd to Native American tribes this spring.
This month, nine members of the Oglala Lakota tribe traveled to CSU from South Dakota to participate in an April 17 send-off ceremony before five bison were loaded into trailers and taken to their new home on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The herd was established in 2015, in part using CSU’s expertise in assisted reproductive technologies to produce bison that have the same genetics as those that have lived in and around Yellowstone National Park. A team led by Assistant Professor Jennifer Barfield of the Department of Biomedical Sciences also incorporated methods for treating sperm and embryos to get rid of the bacteria that cause brucellosis, a disease that triggers miscarriages and premature births in bison.
That first herd of 10 bison has grown significantly since then. The herd lives on approximately 2,700 fenced acres at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Red Mountain Open Space in Northern Colorado in a partnership among CSU, the City of Fort Collins, and Larimer County. About 40 bison were sent to various Native tribes last spring, and more than 60 have been distributed so far this year to tribes and conservation organizations.
At the April 17 ceremony outside the bison pens on CSU’s Foothills Campus, the tribal members from Pine Ridge gathered in a circle with Barfield, herd coordinator Matt McCollum, herd handlers, journalists as well as staff and volunteers from The Tipi Raisers, a Lakewood-based organization that partners with Native communities to alleviate conditions of poverty.
After Tipi Raisers Executive Director Dave Ventimiglia lit a sage bundle from the middle of the circle, one of the Pine Ridge youths carried it around the group to spread its smoke. Then Darryl Slim, a member of the Navajo Nation who serves as spiritual and cultural advisor to The Tipi Raisers, sang a Native song celebrating the occasion.
After several remarks of gratitude for the new partnership among the organizations, two bulls and three heifers were loaded onto the trailers bound for South Dakota, where they joined about 30 other bison in a herd managed by the Knife Chief Buffalo Nation Society.
“It does feel very rewarding to be able to rehome these bison with tribes,” Barfield said. “And it really is just coming full circle on our mission. When we first started this project, we really hoped to contribute to bison conservation, and that includes cultural reinvigoration for tribes too.”
Other recipients of bison this spring include the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin, Sandia Pueblo in New Mexico, Crow Indian Reservation in Montana and the Grand Portage Indian Reservation in Minnesota, which is using seven CSU bison to start its first herd.
The Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd is supported by private fundraising, and the bison are provided free of charge. To donate, visit the herd’s giving page.