Watchlist: ‘Homecoming | Buffalo Return to Indigenous Lands’
By Kamiah Koch
Social media/digital journalist
Until 2021, the city of Denver used to auction off buffalo from its mountain parks to maintain a healthy population. In 2021, they changed directions and began transferring the buffalo back to Indigenous lands.
A PBS video, “Homecoming | Buffalo Return to Indigenous Lands,” published in December 2023, shares the significance of this transfer.
The video shows a large silver animal trailer passing on the freeway with faded black letters painted along the side spelling “LAND BACK” in all capital letters. Inside the trailer are nearly a dozen buffalo leaving Genesee Park in Golden, Colo., and headed for the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.
It has been documented that the U.S. government intentionally over-hunted and slaughtered the buffalo from Native lands as part of the systematic extermination of Indigenous people.
“Prior to colonization, buffalo was our life’s commissary for many of our Tribes,” InterTribal Buffalo Council Board member Jason Baldes (Eastern Shoshone Tribe) said. “It was our food, our clothing, our shelter, but also central to our cultural and spiritual belief systems. It’s been missing for a long period of time. To be able to restore that means we can begin to heal.”
The buffalo are shown arriving to snowy Wyoming and being released to join the rest of their new herd. As the trailer doors open to release them onto the plateau, bundled-up Tribal members and children drum and sing.
Baldes said the Shoshone Tribe was at first given 300 acres, but has now acquired a total of 2,000 acres through fundraising and purchasing property.
“The goal is to continually acquire these lands after the lands were illegitimately taken in the first place when our reservation was opened up for homesteading,” Baldes said.
Now, more than 150 buffalo roam the acquired lands, thanks to the InterTribal Buffalo Council.
A birds-eye view of the open landscape shows the dark brown buffalo herd spread out across the bright, snowy reservation lands.
“We have tremendous wildlife habitat potential on this reservation, perhaps more than many,” Baldes said. “Buffalo fit right into the picture. It’s the only one missing from the landscape on this reservation before Lewis and Clark arrived.”
According to Baldes, the InterTribal Buffalo Council now has 83 member Tribes across the country. That organization is 30 years old and has restored 25,000 buffalo to 65 herds in 20 states.
You can watch the entire video for yourself at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_N5mc7Lbp0.