Dakota tribes rescue at-risk mustangs

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NEW TOWN, N.D. - Two Dakota tribes have stepped in to rescue hundreds of
mustangs that many horse advocates feared were headed to the
slaughterhouse.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota and the Three Affiliated Tribes in
North Dakota each purchased more than 200 wild horses, at a cost of a
dollar apiece, from the Bureau of Land Management in late March. Tribal
officials said the decision to buy the mustangs was based as much on the
past, as it is on the future.

"We wanted to play a role in the preservation of these wild mustangs," said
Richard Mayer, CEO for the Three Affiliated Tribes, consisting of the
Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations. "The lineage of these horses can be
traced back to our ancestors. These animals are part of our heritage and
are really holy to us. They deserve to be protected."

The tribe's purchase of the "hard-to-adopt" animals came just months after
Congress approved a spending bill which included a provision slipped in by
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont. The bill, which passed without any discussion,
lifted protections of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act that
prohibited wild horses from being sold for processing into commercial
products.

The Burns Amendment allows the BLM to now sell horses older than 10 years
of age and those that have unsuccessfully been offered up for adoption on
three occasions to the highest bidder without limitations. That means the
mustangs could be purchased by "killer buyers" at BLM sale yards and
re-sold at a hefty profit to slaughterhouses. There are three foreign-owned
horse slaughterhouses located in the United States. Horse meat is a
delicacy mainly consumed in France, Belgium, Japan, Italy and Switzerland.

"In our own small way, we just wanted to help," explained Todd Fast Horse,
the Rosebud Sioux's executive secretary.

According to the U.S. government, there are roughly 8,400 unadoptable
horses in BLM holding pens across the country. An estimated 37,000 wild
horses roam free on rangelands in the western United States, with more than
half the herd living in Nevada.

Immediately after passage of the bill, horse advocates protested against
it, staging a rally in Washington, D.C. and holding community meetings in
places like Las Vegas. Even some officials within the BLM sided with the
horse groups and vowed to conduct thorough background checks to ensure that
all of the mustangs sold under the new rules would go to good homes.

Fast Horse said Rosebud's newly-acquired 208 horses will roam tribal lands
and, like those adopted by the Three Affiliated Tribes, be used in youth
programs.

Mayer said the 250 mustangs his tribe bought will be offered to members who
have adequate land and funds to care for them, and they will be used in the
tribe's Sobriety Unity rides as well.

And because the horse, Mayer explained, is an animal considered sacred
among many American Indian tribes, he's hoping others will follow their
lead and rescue these older horses from possible slaughter.

"We want to be a role model for other tribes in the U.S. and help in the
preservation of these wonderful animals," Mayer said.