Tribal leaders in Montana welcome the return of a bison herd to one of the state's American Indian reservations, which is set to take place in April. The herd is made up of descendants of bison that were captured and relocated in Alberta, Canada more than 140 years ago.
The relocation of the bison herd is part of a treaty among various Indian tribes in Canada and the United States. The animals will be taken from the Elk Island National Park in Alberta to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana in the hopes of restoring local populations of bison that used to roam in large parts of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains.
Harry Barnes, chairman of the Blackfeet tribe, said that their ancestors used to live among the buffalo in Montana for thousands of years. The animals helped provide them with the things they needed including food, clothing and even shelter.
He said that the buffalo became part of their spiritual being and that they want the animals to return.
Barnes and his fellow tribal leaders hope the 89 buffalos set to make their return to the reserve will be able to serve as the nucleus of a new herd.
During the late 1800s, the bison came close to becoming extinct after they became the target of human populations that were beginning to settle the American West at the time. The animals' meat, fur and skin even became a lucrative trade for these settlers.
As a result, the population of bison in the United States plummeted from hundreds of millions to only about a thousand by 1890.
A large number of the animals that exist today are part commercial herds that are raised to provide meat. These bison have also been bred with cattle to ensure their survival.
The Blackfeet maintain a herd of bison for commercial purposes, which began in 1972. They currently have over 400 of the animals under their care.
Animal experts say that the bison found on Elk Island do not have any genes taken from cattle. They trace their lineage back to a herd of buffalos that were gathered by local American Indian tribes on territories occupied by the Blackfeet.
Two businessmen later bought the bison herd from the Indians but were later forced to sell the animals to the Canadian government. The herd was then transported to Elk Island from Montana.
Photo: Andrew Smith | Flickr