KENWOOD, OKLAHOMA —With a light breeze blowing and dawn breaking across the hills of Delaware County Thursday morning, a herd of bison stepped foot on Cherokee Nation soil for the first time in 40 years.
After a 900-mile journey from the Badlands of South Dakota, 38 female bison were unloaded from a trailer and onto their new home on 66 acres of tribal land near Kenwood in Delaware County. More will arrive later this month.
Up to 1,000 more acres of tribal land can be opened as the herd grows.
The tribe held a welcoming blessing for the animals at their arrival. Cherokee people have a long, deep connection and history with bison as a source of food, tools and clothing and in traditional ceremonies.
“For most of us, the American bison symbolizes our great country – free, strong and resilient. Those are the traits we identify in ourselves as Indian people,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker.
“That’s why the bison has always represented something deeply spiritual to our tribal ancestors and why it’s important for us to reintroduce bison within our homelands. Today, we are able to reconnect the Cherokee Nation with a prominent part of our history and our cultural roots.”
The Cherokee Nation spent nearly two years working with the InterTribal Buffalo Council to acquire bison.
The ITBC is comprised of 60 tribes and grants some of its members surplus bison every other year. The agency has an agreement with national parks to place the animals with federally recognized tribes.
(L to R) Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor Curtis Snell, InterTribal Buffalo Council Executive Director Jim Stone and President Ervin Carlson, Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden welcomed 38 Badlands bison to their new home in the Cherokee Nation.
“It is a historic event here in the Cherokee Nation,” said InterTribal Buffalo Council President Ervin Carlson. “Our main purpose is to return bison back to Indian Country, and that’s what’s happening here. It’s a big part of our culture since we are connected to them spiritually, so for the Cherokee Nation it’s a great day, and for us as well, to bring bison to their Nation.”
The bison, each about 2 years old and weighing around 600 pounds, will grow to 1,100 pounds. A herd of 10 bulls will arrive in the Cherokee Nation next Thursday. Each will grow up to 2,000 pounds.
“The Cherokee Nation has the land base, interest and desire to reconnect with our roots related to the bison,” said Tribal Councilor Curtis Snell, who lives just four miles from the property. “The bison’s return will create many cultural and educational opportunities for our tribe.”