- By Jaedin Medicine Elk
Opinion. The wild buffalo of Yellowstone Country are being considered for Endangered Species Act protection. Their population is not doing well. But, it seems the native hunters who come to kill them don’t care — it’s all about us tribes and our treaties, not the buffalo.
In reality, a bull’s story will tell you how he, in the summertime, got many female buffalo pregnant during the rut as a proud big buffalo bull. Then in the winter, the snow gets too deep in the Park, so he travels to a lower elevation where family groups are already getting hunted/slaughtered in the Gardiner Basin at Beattie Gulch. The females he got pregnant are killed, with his babies left in gut piles. That’s the sad reality of his life: Seeing a creek of blood from his own people and children, knowing he would be hunted after leaving the Park trying to find food just like his family.
The buffalo never stop giving, and they need us to start giving our voice and actions to help them.
Native people should learn more about this issue and how we can help these wild buffalo rather than just take from them without a care for their well-being. These buffalo have been through a lot, and no one seems to care because it’s our “Treaty Right.” The imperiled Central herd is going to be affected by all these hunts.
Many of these strong voices throughout Indian Country are only for themselves and their rights, neglecting the buffalo’s right to roam free. We should be helping them roam free, not just killing them or allowing them to be stuck in Yellowstone National Park for white people’s entertainment. Quarantine shouldn’t be the only way we get wild buffalo from Yellowstone back onto our reservations. Tribes should be working together to help make Montana the first biggest wildlife migration corridor. Instead, the state and the feds want us to keep being tools in their game to appease Montana’s livestock industry. Instead, our treaties are being manipulated to facilitate the destruction of the last wild buffalo.
The way these buffalo are treated isn’t the same way the buffalo our ancestors used for their ceremonies were treated. These buffalo spirits are probably feeling confused and betrayed by us for allowing the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) operations to trap our relatives for slaughter or into domestication, never to be free as they once were.
These buffalo never get a break. They are hazed off their chosen ground, excessively hunted, experimented on, trapped for slaughter and domestication, and then crowded by tourists during the short summer months. Did you know that USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service used to tranquilize big bulls and then shove a rod up their butt to collect information? Then there are us tribal hunters gunning them down by the boundaries as soon as they leave the Park in search of better food to help keep them and their babies in the womb alive.
Some tribal people need a better connection than what this hunt has to offer. When we get a strong buffalo population, respectful hunts can occur. But right now, these buffalo need our voices and help. We have a responsibility and obligation to these relatives. The buffalo need more protection; they need to be able to roam freely out of the Gardiner and Hebgen Basins, a chance to restore themselves on the lands that are their birthright. And maybe we should work to get rid of the State Hunt. Veho (white people) shouldn’t be allowed to hunt wild buffalo. Haho.
Our tribal people are just now reconnecting with wild buffalo for the first time in over a century. It should be up to our tribal leadership to help educate our tribal members on these wild buffalo, to help hunters know what a pregnant female buffalo looks like compared to a young bull; to get on the ground and actually spend time with them; to learn the ways of the family groups, get reacquainted with the bulls and restore our relationship with these sacred relatives. It’s up to us tribal people to demand these things. And you can’t believe everything your tribal governments are telling you because they are learning from the state of Montana and the feds, who don’t tell the whole truth and don’t consider the buffalo’s perspective. These veho will always sit back and watch us bump heads, laughing at us for not realizing we are being manipulated. They will only recognize our Treaties only when it benefits them.
The Montana Department of Livestock makes sure tribes and all other IBMP partners know they want more buffalo gone so they don’t migrate into Montana. They try to control the buffalo population through faulty “science” and politics. Meanwhile, we want way more buffalo than Yellowstone can even hold. We want more buffalo, more protections, on a much larger landscape.
I encourage everyone reading this to attend the IBMP meeting in Gardiner, MT., on June 6 and 7 to see what’s really going on. Say something positive about buffalo rather than pointing your finger at Roam Free Nation and saying, “These guys are the bad guys because they’re against the hunt,” when in reality, we have been advocating for these last wild buffalo. Dealing with people who don’t know what’s going on isn’t new. Eventually, you’ll see what we are doing isn’t for us; it’s for future generations. It’s for the Earth. We have an obligation to be the buffalo’s voice and help them today, so there can be plenty of wild buffalo tomorrow.
Tribal people can’t keep playing the victim. We are stronger than that, and these buffalo deserve our strength, not our bullets. I can’t stress enough that these buffalo — the Northern herd and Central herd in Yellowstone National Park — are the last wild, migratory buffalo left. They aren’t farmed animals. They are wild, just not wild, like deer and elk. Why not? Because the State of Montana’s Department of Livestock wants these buffalo dead. They don’t want them to roam free, not just to protect their invasive cattle, but because they’re also probably scared we will stop depending on their IGA overpriced food and start living with wild buffalo again.
Hunting wild buffalo to near extinction each year isn’t what our ancestors were doing, was it? They definitely weren’t killing pregnant female buffalo. When are tribal people going to realize these buffalo need our help?
We didn’t just kill them, we had a relationship with them. Some of us tribes actually depended on these buffalo because they were everything to us — our relatives. Many buffalo culture tribes had a pact with the buffalo that the buffalo would help them, but when the buffalo needed their help, we would give it. That time is now.
Some hunts involve 30 hunters all lined up outside Yellowstone’s park boundary shooting into family groups hoping to get a buffalo. During some West Yellowstone buffalo hunts, many hunters use snowmobiles, and there’s even a hotline you can call if you don’t know where the buffalo are.
This year was a big winter for Yellowstone National Park, driving thousands of buffalo out of the Park in search of food. I don’t know what to say other than I don’t think the buffalo could go through another winter like this one — getting hunted, trapped, hit by vehicles and winterkill. Many tribes in Montana are talking about how crazy it is hunting at Gardiner, but they still do it because it’s better than these overpriced grocery stores. The buffalo will always keep giving; it’s just time for us to give back to them.
Consider the life of a female buffalo: pregnant, taking care of her sister’s kids and her little brother because her sister and mother were killed or captured when they left the Park. They had to leave the Park because they couldn’t eat anymore. After all, the snow was too deep. So she will take her nephews and little brother to a lower elevation for food. She made it to Gardiner, there’s some food here, but there’s more further to the North, so they will graze down there. Finally, they made it to Beattie Gulch, not knowing her little brother and nephews would be killed.
“Native People?” she thinks. “We thought they had our back. Now they’re just killing us like the whites without the trains.” Eventually, the female pregnant buffalo gets killed, and so does her story and all the migration patterns she knows.
Jaedin Medicine Elk is a Northern Cheyenne tribal member and co-founder of Roam Free Nation.
Native Perspective. Native Voices. Native News.
We launched Native News Online because the mainstream media often overlooks news that is important is Native people. We believe that everyone in Indian Country deserves equal access to news and commentary pertaining to them, their relatives and their communities. That's why the story you’ve just finished was free — and we want to keep it that way, for all readers. We hope you'll consider making a donation to support our efforts so that we can continue publishing more stories that make a difference to Native people, whether they live on or off the reservation. Your donation will help us keep producing quality journalism and elevating Indigenous voices. Any contribution of any amount — big or small — gives us a better, stronger future and allows us to remain a force for change. Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous-centered journalism. Thank you.