Native Tribes Celebrate Montana Land Ownership and Bison Range Restoration

0

A herd of bison grazes near the trail inside the bison range.

Freddy Monares/Montana Public Radio

A narrow gravel road takes visitors zigzagging up a mountain, alongside a stream, and if they’re lucky, they’ll see buffaloes roaming the grounds freely.

The bison’s range is on more than 18,000 acres of undeveloped land in northwest Montana – land taken by the US government without the consent of the Confederate Salish and Kootenai tribes.

In 2020, Congress passed legislation that transfers land management from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who approved the law last year, said with the loss of tribal lands in the early 1900s and the depletion of buffalo herds, Plains tribes had lost their traditional links with the mammal.

“But despite this tragedy and this loss, we are still here. You are still here. And that’s something to celebrate,” Haaland told a crowd celebrating the restoration of the bison range at Salish Kootenai College this weekend. -end.

On Saturday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland applauds the people who helped make possible the restoration of the bison range for the Confederate Salish and Kootenai tribes.  Haaland joined the tribes inside the Salish Kootenai College basketball gymnasium to celebrate their regaining control of the wildlife refuge.

On Saturday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland applauds the people who helped make possible the restoration of the bison range for the Confederate Salish and Kootenai tribes. Haaland joined the tribes inside the Salish Kootenai College basketball gymnasium to celebrate their regaining control of the wildlife refuge.

Freddy Monares/Montana Public Radio

She said the return of land management to tribes is the culmination of the resilience of Indigenous peoples, conservation guided by Indigenous knowledge, and the Biden administration’s commitment to honoring treaty obligations. She called it a return to something pure and sacred.

“When our aboriginal ancestors lived on this land alongside the plethora of animals, and they each respected their place and the balance of nature,” Haaland said.

She said people then relied on bison for food and sustenance, believing that future generations would do the same.

“We all know history took a brutal and tragic turn after that,” Haaland said, referring to settlers colonizing Indigenous peoples and hunting bison on the brink of extinction.

And that history was not accurately represented at the bison visitor center.

A narrow gravel road zigzags travelers through the scenic Bison Range where buffaloes roam freely on 18,000 acres of undeveloped land in northwestern Montana.

A narrow gravel road zigzags travelers through the scenic Bison Range where buffaloes roam freely on 18,000 acres of undeveloped land in northwestern Montana.

Freddy Monares/Montana Public Radio

Whisper Camel-Means, the tribals division manager for the wildlife refuge, said that under the supervision of the Fish and Wildlife Service, the tribes’ history was not entirely correct. She said exhibits there previously used a different tribes word for bison.

“We are not grouped in Indian language, Indian things. We are Se̓liš, we are Qĺispe̓, we are Ksanka. We all have different stories,” Camel-Means said.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have corrected inaccuracies at the Visitor Center on the Flathead Reservation. They previously tried to change the information but were unable because they said the Fish and Wildlife Service prioritizes wildlife preservation.

The Visitor Center is now open and features new exhibits that better reflect tribal involvement in bison conservation. The oral histories now included there recount how the United States discriminated against and excluded tribal members from land management operations when it was turned into a wildlife refuge.

A recently produced documentary by the tribes titled “In the Spirit of Atatice” sets the record straight on who originally brought the bison to the area.

Stephanie Gillin, Education Program Manager for CSKT's Natural Resources Program, and Whisper Camel-Means, CSKT's Division Manager for Bison Range, pose for a photo near the skull of a bison at the center of home of the bison.

Stephanie Gillin, Education Program Manager for CSKT’s Natural Resources Program, and Whisper Camel-Means, CSKT’s Division Manager for Bison Range, pose for a photo near the skull of a bison at the center of home of the bison.

.

Stephanie Gillin, education program manager for the Tribal Natural Resources Program, said she worked with cultural committees to get the story correct for the new exhibits.

“We listen to our elders on some things that we need to protect because if we don’t, if we release it, we lose what it gives us – you know, we’ve lost that power that it gives us,” she said. .

Generational trauma, Gillin said, is still felt today within tribal communities and the correction of information at the visitor center is about respecting and preserving tribal history.

The tribes are working on building a larger museum that will be closer to US Highway 93. It’s a push to share their history with more people.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Share.

Comments are closed.