Native American ranchers can now build herds thanks to a tribal nonprofit that provides significant help

LINCOLN, Nebraska — A herd of bison belonging to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, which is located in south-central South Dakota, was managed by Wayne Frederick and his father for a number of years.

But now, because to an innovative collaboration between a tribal foundation that assists Native American ranchers in the raising of bison and the Nature Conservancy, Frederick is able to establish his very own commercial herd of bison.

A fence with six wires.

Last week, four bison were brought to Frederick’s Rez Raised Ranch, which is located close to Winner, South Dakota. Another ten bison are due to arrive on Monday. They will be released on meadows that have recently had a six-wire fence installed by his family in order to contain the enormous creatures, which may weigh up to a ton and stand up to six feet tall.

The rancher, who is 43 years old, is grateful for the assistance provided by the Tanka Fund, which is situated in Kyle, South Dakota, as well as the Nature Conservancy, in order to bring back an animal that once covered the Plains and provided his people with food, tools, and shelter.

According to Frederick, “There’s a lot of meaning to it; not only are they a keystone species for the area, but they’re also a cultural animal.” “There’s a lot of meaning to it,” The impact on culture and the significance of it go far beyond the production of meat animals.

The distribution of the bison is one component of a wider, multi-decade-long campaign to repopulate the Plains with bison and to re-establish a buffalo economy that is beneficial to both Native American tribes and ranchers.

celebration of thirty years of labor

The InterTribal Buffalo Council has been working tirelessly over the past three decades to reintroduce bison to Indian tribes. Over the course of this time, they have distributed around 20,000 buffalo. The council will be celebrating its 30th anniversary by organizing the transfer of 1,500 buffalo to tribes located in six different states. This will be the greatest transfer of bison ever planned by the council.

“The significance of buffalo extends beyond their physical presence on the land,” said Troy Heinert, a member of the Sicangu Lakota (Rosebud Sioux Tribe) and the executive director of the Intertribal Buffalo Council. “The significance of buffalo extends beyond their physical presence on the land.”

Bison, according to Heinert, “are a constructive force for spiritual and cultural revival, ecological restoration and conservation,” in addition to being a step toward achieving food sovereignty, increased health, and economic development.

The phrase “on a mission”

The Tanka Fund, whose name comes from the Lakota word for “big” or “huge,” has the objective of assisting native ranchers in obtaining bison with the goal of re-establishing bison on one million acres of virgin prairie.

Trudy Ecoffey, the executive director of the nonprofit organization known as Tanka Fund, stated that the organization is “on a mission to restore buffalo back to Indian Country.”

According to Ecoffey, “Buffalo are vital to the lives and economy of Native People and the areas they occupy.”

Bison, which once numbered an estimated 60 million animals, were virtually wiped off by the 1890s due to overhunting for their hides and by troops who were commanded to kill them in order to deny sustenance to Native American tribes. These two factors combined to nearly extinguish the species. There are currently over 400,000 buffalo residing in the United States as a direct result of conservation efforts and consumer desire for leaner cuts of meat.

On the family ranch that spans over 4,000 acres, Frederick has spent the better part of the last decade tending to the herd. However, he emphasized that the meat protein provided by bison is far more beneficial.

Bison consumption resulted in weight loss.

He said that he was able to lose sixty pounds by changing his diet from one that included of of fast food to one that consisted of leaner bison twice a day while he was attending Northeast Community College in Norfolk.

According to Frederick, “Food that’s cheap is typically not beneficial for you,” and he’s right.

The Niobrara Valley Preserve is located in north-central Nebraska and spans 56,000 acres along a 25-mile stretch of the Niobrara River. This year, the Nature Conservancy will donate 800 bison to the Tanka Fund and the InterTribal Buffalo Council. Of those 800 bison, approximately 330 will come from the Niobrara Valley Preserve.

The Conservancy has over 6,600 bison that it administers on preserves located all over the country. Additionally, the Conservancy has been raising buffalo for more than twenty years in order to assist in the management of its grasslands.

Nests can benefit from bison hair.

The routine grazing done by bison is not only helpful for the management of prairies, but it also benefits other animals that live in grasslands.

According to Corissa Busse, who is the western South Dakota program manager for the Nature Conservancy, grassland birds and mammals that burrow use the fuzzy hair that bison shed each spring for their nests. Likewise, bison hair is used by burrowing mammals for their burrows.

According to Busse, this is the second year that the Conservancy has donated surplus bison to the Tanka Fund so that the fund can distribute them to Native American ranchers. However, this year marks the greatest transfer of animals to both the fund and the Intertribal Buffalo Council. In the past, any surplus bison would be put up for auction.

Excited to participate

“We are really excited about the incredible work these groups are doing to support Native communities,” said Busse. “We are really excited about the incredible job they are doing to help Native communities.”

In Winner, Frederick mentioned that he is very excited to get his bison herd up and running.

His wife, Alexandra Romero, son Cedar, and daughter Summer all pitched in to assist fence in two parts of pasture for the bison, who require fences to be at least 5 feet high.

Frederick stated that his father, Thomas, was instrumental in the establishment of the Rosebud Tribe’s bison program. Thomas had always advised Frederick’s family against beginning a commercial herd while they were employed by the tribe.

Because none of the Fredericks works for the tribal bison project at this time, Wayne reached out to the Tanka Fund, which provided for the shipment of bison, in order to get assistance with the situation.

“The dream became a reality.”

According to Frederick, the family intends to market the bison in the same way that it marketed its grass-fed beef: by making it available to tribal members at prices that are within their financial means, by selling it at farmer’s markets, and by making sales directly from the ranch.

He believed that it would be beneficial for the family ranch to begin raising bison at this time. The prices for bison are favorable, and the care of the animals requires less direct interaction than that of cattle. And Native people benefit from buffalo in ways that go far beyond the consumption of their meat. In addition to providing a cultural connection, they are a source of hides, heads, and even the pointed shin bones that are used in Sun Dance celebrations.

Frederick mentioned that he has had the ambition for quite some time to establish his own own bison herd.

“The dream came true,” he said.

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