TAHLEQUAH, OKLAHOMA — After a four-decade absence, bison are returning to Cherokee Nation tribal land.
The Cherokee Nation last raised bison in the 1970s for tourism.
On Thursday, a herd of bison is coming to the Cherokee Nation from the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Another 10 head of bison will be delivered to the tribe in mid-October from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
“Our tribe is thankful to the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council, 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. “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 Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council, headquartered in Rapid City, South Dakota, awards its member tribes surplus bison from national parks each year.
The Badlands National Park and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks each have about 400 head of surplus bison every year.
“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,” said Jim Stone, executive director of the ITBC.
The ITBC had site visits to Cherokee Nation in May and July to look at land and review plans for the herd. The organization also awarded a grant to help the Cherokee Nation provide special fencing and supplies to maintain the animals.
The Cherokee Nation’s natural resources department manages 22,000 acres of tribally owned land in northeastern Oklahoma. The bison will be placed on 1,000 acres in Delaware County.
Cherokee Nation grant writer Warren Hawk, natural resources staff Trent Holland and Intertribal Buffalo Council Technical Services Provider Trudy Ecoffey look at tribal property in Delaware County in March as a site for the tribe to raise bison.
“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 Gunter Gulager, natural resources director for Cherokee Nation. “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.”
The Cherokee Nation is also in the running to receive a small herd of bison from Yellowstone National Park, which has about 300 surplus bison per year. The availability of live animals from Yellowstone is very rare, with the animals in high demand since they have unique genetics not seen in other herds.
Bison weigh up to 2,000 pounds per animal. For more information on Yellowstone bison, visithttp://www.nps.gov/yell/naturescience/bisonfaq.htm. For more The