The American bison, commonly referred to as the buffalo, is much more than an important historical source of food to the Northern Plains Native Nations. Tribal histories, cultures, traditions, and spiritual lives all connected deeply to the buffalo in a reciprocal relationship. Bison provided food and other resources and Northern Plains people honored and cared for the bison through ceremonies and other cultural protocols . Before European arrival in North America it is estimated that thirty to sixty million buffalo thrived on the Plains; but, by 1900, populations numbered only in the hundreds. This dramatic decline was largely the result of calculated actions on the part of the United States to destroy the buffalo in order to subjugate Native people; without buffalo, important values, beliefs, practices, as well as the diets of Northern Great Plains Nations suffered incredible loss.
Today, Native people and Nations on the Northern Plains continue to find innovative ways to restore bison populations and protect them from threats such as commercial hunting and disease. The InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC) is a leader in bison revitalization . The Council believes that reintroduction of the buffalo to tribal lands can help to heal the spirit of Indian peoples and protect the traditional relationships between Indian people and the buffalo. The Council is also dedicated to helping Native Nations build economic strength through the marketing of bison as a healthy food resource.
Jed Portman, "The Great American Bison," Need To Know, PBS, May 3, 2011; InterTribal Buffalo Council, "Who We Are," ITBC, 2011; Peter Winkler, "In the Beginning, Bison," Smithsonian Zoogoer, Jan/Feb, 2014