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The Mighty Bison Returns to Cherokee Nation

[node:summary]Cherokee Nation is about to receive a small herd of bison from Badlands National Park via the Intertribal Buffalo Council.
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It has been 40 years since bison roamed Cherokee Nation land, but that is about to change.

This week the tribe will get a herd from Badlands National Park in South Dakota, according to a media release from the tribe, with another 10 coming mid-month from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. The tribe also may acquire a small herd of Yellowstone bison.

“Our tribe is thankful to the InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC), who opted to place some of the excess bison from the Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in our care. It is a unique opportunity to reunite our people with a prominent part of our past,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker in a statement. “Typically associated with plains-based tribes, the American bison also played a critical role for the Cherokee prior to colonization. Hundreds of years ago when bison roamed east of the Mississippi, the Cherokee people survived, in part, by using bison as a vital food source. Today, there is a nationwide resurgence by tribes, including the Cherokee Nation, to reconnect with these animals.”

The Cherokee Nation joined the InterTribal Buffalo Council last December, with an eye toward having the animals reintroduced on their lands.

RELATED: Cherokee Nation Takes First Step to Acquire Bison

The 1970s is the last time that bison were raised by the Cherokee Nation, the media release said, and the tribe did so for tourism reasons. The InterTribal Buffalo Council is based in Rapid City, South Dakota, and annually awards surplus bison from national parks each year to member tribes.

The Badlands National Park and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks each have about 400 head of surplus bison annually, the Cherokee news release said.

“It will be a special moment when the animals arrive at the Cherokee Nation and one that ITBC is proud to have played a role in. ITBC’s mission is to restore buffalo to tribal lands, and this is a major accomplishment for the Nation and ITBC to share in,” Buffalo Council executive director Jim Stone said in the statement.

The tribe is devoting 1,000 of its 22,000 acres of tribally owned land in northeastern Oklahoma to the bison. The bison transfer has been in the works for several years, and tribal leaders were exultant.

“The Cherokee Nation had been in contact with the National Bison Association for a number of years, but really gained the traction needed to acquire these special breed of animals in just the past two years,” said Cherokee Nation natural resources director Gunter Gulager. “The Cherokee Nation administration and our Tribal Council really came together so that bison can again be an avenue for tourism or source of lean protein in our schools and restaurants.”

Besides the Cherokee Nation, Yellowstone National Park officials recently revealed a plan to divvy 145 bison up between the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes in Montana, the Queens and Bronx zoos in New York City, and the Wilds Conservation Park in Ohio, Reuters reported on October 1.