Giving Back to Wounded Knee Foundation

March 22, 2013


Story by Jaime Netzer

The National Bison Legacy act seeks to pay tribute to a symbol of our nation’s strength and endurance.

Adult male bison can reach a shoulder height of more than 5 feet, boast a length of nearl 9 feet, and weigh up to as much as 2500 pounds, as much as a Volkswagon Beetle! And when the mood strikes, , or they find the sun rising or setting, bison may do something surprising: They dance!

Colorado rancher Pam Clarke calls it, affectionately, “the boinky dance.” In footage captured onn her video camera, a yearling moves swiftly through his small herd trying, as Clark describes, ” to get the rest of the group going.” He hops on all four hooves at once, moving much like a coiled-up spring. In the video, his friewnds remain mostly uninterested, but Clark says that at dawn and dusk, the whole herd will partake in this quirky choreography!

Perhaps today more than ever the American bison has something to dance about! Thhough bison have long been recognized as a symbol of the West and our frontier past, their iconic stature is in a position to become officially recognized for the first time, courtesy of the U. S. government. The National Bison Legacy Act, introduced by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), would serve the express purpose of designating the bison our National Mammal.

I introduced the National Bison Legacy Act as a way for our younger generation to take an interest in government and to learn more about the West and its history, “Enzi says. The bill has broad bipartisan support and recognizes the bison as a symbol of the will of the American people — their strength, their freedoom, and their perseverance.”

Perseverance is right. Bison, when faced with a storm, instinctually walk into it head-on because their body design enables to face the storm and get through it more quickly. (Cattle, by contrast, move away from an oncoming storm). And bison, indeed, have made it through the storm of their near extinction thanks to an unlikely coalition of supporters.

It was said that approximately 77,000,000 roamed the west to Ohio, Illinois and Indiana in the 1840’s and in only 60 years of a hell-bent thrust of mass extinction, they numbered only around 900-1000 by 1900.

The American Bison Society, wich was first created by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt who trophy shot the world over, and conservationist William Temple Hornaday, was reestablished in 2005 by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The people working for and with this group are diverse: They include ranchers, Native American Tribal Members, scientists, , as well as government agencies. Similarly, the National Bison Legacy Act coalition — the folks working to get the national mammal designation — consists of the National Bison Association–was established in 2005 by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The people working for and with this group are diverse: They include ranchers, Native American tribal leaders, scientists and conservationists, as well as as government agencies. Similarly, the National Bisoon Legacy Act coalition–the folks working to get the national mammal designation — consists of the National Bison Association (NBA), the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council (ITBC), and WCS.

Each organization wants something different from the national mammal designation. WCS hopes to bring awareness to the ecological restoration of the species. WCS hopes to bring awareness to the ecological restoration of the species. ITBC wants tribes to have access to bison again for cultural usage. And NBA wants to get the bison story out so that more people eat them!

Jim Stone, executive director of ITBC, explains why this mix of folks is a little strange:

“We disagree on some bbasic fundamental levels”, he says. “The commercial bison programs are first and foremost concerned with making money. The majority of conservation groups fail to see the role of Native Americans in buffalo restoration. And the tribes’ relationship is one based on a sstrong religious component, where the buffalo provides for us and we provide for the buffalo.” But he also notes that there are shared goals, too. No one wants to domesticate the bison, not even the ranchers, and everyone is interested in increasing bison P.R.

To help accomplish that, the National Bison Leggacy Act would designate the first Thursday of each November as a celebration of the bison, to be spearheaded by the very groups supporting the bill. That’s particularly important for Stone, because November is also Native American Heritage month, and he’s looking to develop a curriculum to educate people about the role of bison in Native American communities as the animals are reintroduced onto tribal lands.

 “Because you hear it often repeated that the buffalo are our relatives, it confuses some people that we still consume the animals”, he says. “The usage of buffalo for consumption is a cornerstone of our relationship; it would be disrespectful to the buffalo to not utilize it for the purpose laid out in some tribes’ creation stories.”

 More than one expert has posited, in fact, that it is the recent interest in consumption of bison that has actually helped to restore the species. “At the turn of the last century, five ranchers, the Bronx Zoo, and others scrambled to save the buffalo from extinction,” says Dave Carter, executive director of NBA. “From 1900 to the 1960’s, those efforts focused primarily on bringing back bison to public parks and preserves. There is no real accurate census of the bison population, but a 1960 edition of National Geographic’s WILD ANIMALS OF NORTH AMERICA lists the total population of bison at that time as 10,000 animals. Since private ranching started to take hold in the 1960’s, the population has increased dramatically. According to the latest USDA Census of Agriculture, there were 200,000 bison in that country as well. More than 95% of bison iin North America today are on private lands.”

Even the WCS, which maintains an interest in conservation herds, says they’re ibn favor of people eating bison We’re not at all opposed to bison as a ranch animal,” says Keith Aune, lead bison coordinator for WCS. But he nbotes there are some special challenges. “You can’t cowboy ’em,” he says. “If you do, it’ll blow up. It takes subtlety and a great deal of patience, but they have so much to teach us.” (Guess the tribes of the great plains have known that for many hundreds of years ~ C. Hicks)

Which is what makes them such great ambassadors, Rancher Pam Clark agrees. “What a perfect animal to be our national mammal, because they have a sense of triumph and tragedy but then, they had nothing to do with it.”


February 6, 2013


Back in June of 2012, we had some good news! Approximately 60 bison with pure genetic genes going back to the 1800’s were sequestered away for five years to make sure their health was in peak condition.

Soon after that, the bison were moved to Montana to help Montanta landowners live with free-roaming bison outside Yellowstone National Park. Defenders of Wildlife is helping out with reinforced fencing – reimbursing landowners for 50% of costs up to $1000 per landowner – to keep bison out of gardens and landscaped yards.

Bison often travel beyond the park boundaries in search of food (as do wolves), particularly during harsh winters with deep snow. Until recently, bison were hazed back inside the park, shot on sight or shipped to slaughter houses. But in the last couple of years, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (THUMBS UP!!!) and state and federal agencies have agreed to let bison roam beyond the park boundaries.

Additional changes may soon create year-round bison habitat outside the park, but only if landowners agree to share their space. Stronger fencing is one way every one can co-exist. We ask South Dakota Senator, John Thune if he had anything to do with all of this? If so, then you are a hero!

Cindy Hicks-Orth
Giving Back To Wounded Knee Foundation, Inc.

Email: for more information about our not-for-profit foundation!

August 28, 2012


Historically, factually, in America in the 1500’s – 1700’s, there was an estimated 77 million buffalo roaming not only the Great Plains of America, but roaming as far east as the Mississippi River in the prairies of Iowa and Illinois. This was the major food source of the Plains American Indians.

The assault on the buffalo began in the 1830’s making the buffalo extinct west of the Rocky Mountains. The United States military and European immigrants making their way west were the primary source of the major offenders in drastically reducing the numbers of the America’s largest mammals. In 1844, over 75,000 Bison robes were sold. Between 1870 and 1891, bones of 31 million buffalo were collected and sold. In order to drive the Indians from the plains, over 60 million buffalo and two million elk were destroyed.

The railroad from the east meeting the railroad from the west was also involved in the destruction, having to feed thousands of workers laying the tracks. After the track was laid, passengers traveling in either direction were often handed long guns and rifles to shoot buffalo from their passenger windows as the train continued its journey. A “Buffalo Shoot” was considered a passenger “perk” of the trip.

The Buffalo population in 1906, the year my grandmother was married (born in 1879, 11 years before the massacre at Wounded Knee), was shockingly reduced to 1,000. Somehow, someone pulled the plug on this slaughter and at present time, the buffalo population numbers are growing slowly. One half million now live, with cattle genes. Just 12,000 – 15,000 with pure buffalo genetics currently are surviving. The old phrase, “A dead buffalo is a dead Indian” was said in the 1800’s in the attempt to drive the Indians from the Great Plains.

Cindy Hicks-Orth
Giving Back To Wounded Knee Foundation, Inc.

Email: for more information about our not-for-profit foundation!

June 19, 2012


Chief Seattle was famous in his day, but only to those who lived along the Puget Sound.  He would become far more widely known in the decades after his death when words attributed to him began to fill books and, much later, posters and postcards.

Below is one of his best known passages. The version that you see was called “A Letter to President Franklin Pierce”.  The eloquent words were broadcast, printed, quoted and reprinted, and soon Chief Seattle would be internationally renowned, not as a war leader and shrewd politician, but as a spiritual ancestor of the modern Green movement.

The Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land . . . We will consider your offer, for we know if we do not, the white man may come with guns and take our lands . . . How can you buy or sell the sky–the warmth of the land?  The ideas is strange to us.  Yet we do not own the freshness of the air or the sparkle of the water . . .  Every part of this earth is sacred to my people . . . When the buffaloes are all slaughtered, the wild horses all tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men, and the views of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires, where is the thicket?  Gone.  Where is the Eagle?  Gone.  Our God is the same God . . . The earth does not belong to man.  Man belongs to the earth.  This we know.  All things are connected like the blood which unites one family.  The family of man. 

Chief Seattle

June 18, 2012


For the first time in more than a century, wild bison are roaming tribal plains in the Great Plains.  Sixty-one bison from the Yellowstone National Park herd were released on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northeastern Montana in March, 2012 following a 500-mile journey by truck from a quarantine facility — some had been held for as long as five years — to ensure they were disease-free.

Returning this iconic animal to tribal lands is a major step forward for bison conservation and only adds to the cultural significance of this homecoming,  says Defenders of Wildlife President Jamie Rappaport Clark, who was at Fort Peck to witness and celebrate the release of the bison and to thank the tribes for “making this dream come true.”

The historic homecoming caps decades of work by the tribes of Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Reservations to obtain Yellowstone bison to re-establish herds of the species once so cental to their daily lives and to the prairie ecosystem.  Because it has not interbred with cattle, the Yellowstone herd is the only continuously wild, most significant genetically pure bison herd remaining.

BisonOver the last few years, DEFENDERS has lobbied hard in Montana for bison restoration on tribal lands.  We also worked closely with the tribes to secure grazing permits and pay for wildlife friendly fencing and trailers to transport the wild bison.  Half the herd will eventually move to Fort Belknap, about 130 miles west of Fort Peck.

DEFENDERS’  goal is to see this historic venture serve as a model for introducing additional herds on other tribal and selected public lands,” explains Rappaport Clark.

These only descendants of the vast herds that once roamed the Great Plains by the millions (over 77,ooo,ooo in the early 1800’s) dropped to 1,001 individual bison in 1906.

  • Bison extinction begins in Iowa in the 1800’s
  • Assault occurs in earnest in the 1830’s with the mass destruction and extinction of this magnificent animal in the 1840’s west of the Rocky Mountain Range.
  • In 1844 75,000 bison robes were sold.
  • Between 1870-1891 the bones of 31,000,000 bison were collected and sold.
  • The bison population was reduced to 1,000 in 1906
  • Present bison population today is 500,000 with cattle genes
  • 12,000 to 15,000 pure bison remain

Thus the bison population was reduced to 1,000, a sickening collapse in just 6 decades, due to the efforts and government to subdue the Great Plains tribes’ conflict with the immigrants heading west by covered wagon.  No food, no tribes.  This led to the government and military desire to bring the Native Americans into the forts on the immigrants trails with promises of blankets, beef and bread.  Much of the bread, when distributed, was actually “hard tack” left over from the Civil War of the 1860’s! ~ which means it literally could have been 10,20,30 years old by the time it was allotted to the Native Americans who stayed close to the Forts through the 1890’s.

As the decades roll on, it is a relief to see the steps of improvement, small as they may be, as a reminder of the way America, her native peoples, and our treasured wilderness USED to be.  We can only hope that our care and keeping of our vast land and its treasures serve as a constant reminder of the’ tracks we leave behind . . .’

Wolf Pack