Tue. Jun 25th, 2024

Denver’s bison herd is a historic lifeline for indigenous tribes

By meerna Jun11,2024

In March, 16 animals were donated to the Standing Rock Tribe as part of an annual meeting in which the Denver Parks and Recreation Department donates bison to various tribes. This year, three tribes took home majestic animals.

Ray Moore, who lives on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation on the border of North and South Dakota, said he was excited to take part in the program.

Moore has been working on the acquisition for two years and said the transfer is of great importance to the people of Standing Rock. “It’s so surreal it’s hard to believe it’s even coming to fruition,” Moore said.

A small group of people attended the transfer and ceremony near Genesee, including officials from Denver Parks and Recreation, the Denver Zoo and the TallBull Memorial Council, which is made up of representatives from several indigenous tribes.

During the cultural ceremony, the council’s Keith TallBull prayed that the buffalo would be delivered safely to the Standing Rock Tribe. During the ceremony, a tribal song was sung and sweet grass was burned to bless those present. TallBull said the ceremony gave meaning to the buffalo’s journey home to indigenous lands.

“We are returning these family members back to these tribes to either strengthen existing herds or establish new herds on various reservations,” said Scott Gilmore, deputy executive director of Denver Parks and Recreation. “After this year, we will be a source of buffalo that have established herds in three different reserves.”

Because the buffalo is a sacred animal to indigenous people, Moore said once the animals are in their new location, there will also be a ceremony. The animals will help the tribe take care of the land through regenerative agriculture.

“Our bond is more than spiritual and even more than words can express, because the creator sent them to us,” Moore said.

In the last few years, about 125 buffaloes have been transferred to several tribes. Before Denver’s buffalo transfer, yearlings were auctioned off to the highest bidder. To prevent overgrazing, herd reduction is necessary.

The city’s buffalo herd splits time between Daniels Park in Douglas County and Genesee Park along I-70 in Jefferson County. Both are parks in Denver. Historically, the herd belonged to the Denver Zoo until 1914, when it was moved to Genesee Park and donated to Denver. The zoo continues to maintain a close relationship with the buffalo and helps with testing necessary for the animals to travel across state lines. Because buffalo are counted as cattle and not wild animals, additional testing and documentation is required.

The herd has lived near Genesee for over a century. The transfer program only began a few years ago, when Gilmore of Denver Parks met with members of the TallBull Memorial Council and offered them the bison for use on Daniels Park land leased from the city. The site includes 80 acres of a 1,000-acre park. It is also used for cultural and religious ceremonies, as well as educational purposes.

The city’s relationship with the TallBull Memorial Council has been beneficial in arranging buffalo transfers with Native tribes throughout the West. Additionally, the city is working with the Inter-Tribal Council of Buffalo on plans to distribute animals to other tribes.

“This will probably be the most important thing I ever do in my life,” Gilmore said. “It’s pretty powerful stuff.”

By meerna

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