Herd ‘coming home’ under treaty between North American tribes that seeks to return bison from
Monday 28 March 2016 05.43 BST
Last modified on Monday 28 March 201623.50 BST
Descendants of a bison herd captured and sent to Canada more than a century ago will be relocated to a Montana Native American reservation next month, in what tribal leaders bill as a homecoming for a species emblematic of their traditions.
The shipment of animals from Alberta’s Elk Island national park to the Blackfeet reservation follows a 2014 treaty among tribes in the US and Canada. That agreement aims to restore bison to areas of the Rocky Mountains and
where millions once roamed.
“For thousands of years the Blackfeet lived among the buffalo here. The buffalo sustained our way of life, provided our food, clothing, shelter,” Blackfeet chairman Harry Barnes said. “It became part of our spiritual being. We want to return the buffalo.”
The 89 plains bison, also known as buffalo, will form the nucleus of a herd that tribal leaders envision will soon roam freely across a vast landscape: the Blackfeet reservation, nearby Glacier national park and the Badger-Two Medicine wilderness — more than 4,000 square miles combined.
Bison were hunted to near-extinction in the late 1800s as European settlers advanced across the once-open American west.
Most of the animals that survive today are in commercial herds, raised for their meat and typically interbred with cattle. The Blackfeet have a commercial bison herd established in 1972 that numbers more than 400 animals.
The lineage of
Elk Island’s bison, which experts say are free of cattle
genes, traces back to a small group of animals captured by several American
Indians on Blackfeet land just south of . Canada