- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 15, 2021

A Denver agency donated 14 bison to American Indian tribes this month as reparations and a contribution to tribal conservation efforts.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department gave 13 American bison to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes located in Oklahoma and one bison to the Tall Bull Memorial Council in Colorado as the first-of-its-kind gift from Denver to help reintroduce wild bison to their native homes.

The gift marks the first donation of surplus Denver Mountain Park bison to tribes and nonprofit groups as part of an ordinance that lasts through 2030.

“This donation is the result and culmination of a very long, storied history and relationship with the State of Colorado,” Reggie Wassana, governor of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, said in a statement. “The Tribes plan to use the donated bison as a cultural, conservation and educational resource, with the goal of locating the bison on our own tribal natural plains habitat.”

All 14 bison were adult females and about half of the bison donated might be pregnant, meaning the Cheyenne Arapaho tribe in Oklahoma could get six or seven calves in the coming weeks on top of the donated bison, said Scott Gilmore, deputy executive director of the Parks and Recreation Department.

The agency recently hosted its annual bison auction at Genesee Park, an event that helps keep the herd at a healthy population size and promotes genetic diversity.

Mr. Gilmore said his department keeps about 60 bison on its pastures each year and had auctioned off its yearlings for years. Due to weather conditions and concerns about overgrazing, the department decided to thin the herd more after this year’s auction in March.

The 14 bison actually were given away before the Denver City Council unanimously approved of the ordinance this week. Mr. Gilmore said the bison had to be donated as quickly as possible because calves cannot be transported due to the threat of being trampled.

At least until 2030, the parks and recreation department will no longer auction off young bison and instead will select tribes across the country to donate bison to.

“In native, Indian and Indigenous populations, the bison are part of the land. It’s not like they are separate,” Mr. Gilmore said. “So for us to return bison to these tribes across the nation, we are returning land back to them.”

The department has two conservation bison herds in the Denver Mountain Parks system — one at Genesee Park, the other at Daniels Park.

The herds descended from the last wild bison in North America from Yellowstone and originally were established at Denver’s City Park. In 1914, the bison were moved to Genesee Park and then expanded to Daniels Park in 1938, according to the department.

The mountain parks system started caring for the first managed bison herd in Colorado as a way to prevent extinction of the species.

When the first European explorers settled on the American continent, the number of bison surpassed 30 million. However, they were nearly wiped out by the turn of the 20th century, with fewer than 300 remaining on the planet by the early 1900s, said Megan Davenport, a wildlife biologist for the InterTribal Buffalo Council.

Mr. Gilmore said the department’s pastures now have 46 or 47 bison and probably will have as many as 70 in a month from the births. He said the department is looking into donating bison to the Northern Arapaho Tribe and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe next year.

An estimated 31,000 free-range wild bison roam in North America today.

Many American Indian tribes in the U.S. are working to restore buffalo, which number in the thousands on tribal lands.

In August, the InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC) completed the first transfer of 40 Yellowstone buffalo to 16 Native American tribes in nine states in collaboration with Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes. The council said the transfers help sustain tribally managed buffalo herds and preserve the unique genetics and lineage of the largest, free-roaming herd of American bison.

“Buffalo are a deeply integral part of the culture and histories of many Tribal peoples across North America, and likewise, an equally important part of many Tribes’ new and existing stories today,” said Megan Davenport, a wildlife biologist for the InterTribal Buffalo Council. “Restoring buffalo to Tribal lands, and supporting those efforts, ensures the permanence and sovereignty of Tribal Nations and People, restores and preserves culture, and helps to balance some of the major disparities which exist within Indian Country today relating to health, access to food and resources, economics, opportunity, and hope.”

During the winter months, buffalo are captured at the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park and tested for the bacterial disease brucellosis, which can spread from animals to humans.

Those who test negative for the disease could go into quarantine and then are transferred to the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes in Montana to complete another round of testing. If a bison receives a final negative test, then it is declared brucellosis-free and cleared for travel.

According to the ITBC, buffalo managed by Yellowstone National Park have never been interbred with cattle and can be used to help increase the long-term health of many herds in tribal lands.

Since the early 1990s, more than 10,000 Yellowstone buffalo have been slaughtered due to “management strategies” many Native Americans disagree with, the council said.

There are 55 million acres of tribal lands in the U.S. that could provide habitat for buffalo herds, said Ms. Davenport. The council currently has 75 tribal nations who are working to restore buffalo herds to their lands.

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