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A brown, shaggy buffalo stands on a prairie with snow-capped mountains in the background.
Buffalo Buffalo are important to Tribal Nations for spiritual and cultural revitalization, ecological restoration, food sovereignty and more. © Brad Christensen

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InterTribal Buffalo Council Partnership Adds Buffalo to Native American Tribes

The InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC) has partnered with Native American Tribes across the country and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to restore buffalo, helping expand the population size and genetic diversity of their herds. Buffalo are keystone species whose ecological role is integral to thousands of other natural relationships across North America. Their restoration on Tribal lands is an essential step in repairing these relationships which have been severed by European settlement and the ensuing violence against Native people as well as the extensive conversion of natural areas.

“The restoration of buffalo back to our communities opens a new chapter for cultural revitalization and ecological restoration. Collaboration in Tribal buffalo restoration means we can work together for the betterment of buffalo and our Tribal homelands,” Jason Baldes, who sits on the ITBC Board of Directors and is Tribal Buffalo Program Manager for the National Wildlife Federation.

Through ITBC’s dedicated and continued leadership in the field of Tribal buffalo restoration, it has created a network to translocate buffalo safely and efficiently to member Nations. Partners, including TNC, which is transferring approximately 130 buffalo this year to ITBC member Nations, support the national restoration of the species through ITBC’s Surplus Buffalo Program.

“The partnership with TNC has been a blessing for the Tribal Nations which we serve. We’re extremely excited about the opportunity to grow this relationship in the coming years,” Troy Heinert, ITBC Executive Director.

Buffalo are important to member Nations for spiritual and cultural revitalization, ecological restoration, conservation, food sovereignty, economic development, health initiatives and more. However, these animals were nearly driven to extinction in the late 1800s when the U.S. government encouraged settlers to starve and drive Tribes off their lands by slaughtering buffalo. Each animal returned to Tribal lands becomes much more than its physical presence on the landscape—it signifies a restored web of relationships that had been broken for hundreds of years.

“Bison are a keystone species to lands and communities across this country,” said Corissa Busse, TNC’s Western South Dakota conservation manager. “This work together with Native Nations is an opportunity to bring healing for people and nature.” 

Buffalo from TNC preserves in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri will be transferred this fall to ITBC member Nations including the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho Nation in Wyoming, the Modoc Nation in Oklahoma and the Seneca Nation in New York.

Since 1992, ITBC has transported more than 10,000 buffalo to Tribal lands through its Surplus Buffalo Program. Tribes create the infrastructure needed to restore buffalo geographically across the country, preserving unique genetics and thousands of years of knowledge about maintaining the relationship between buffalo and their Native relatives.

This program is a win-win, helping relieve grazing pressure on public and private lands while benefitting Tribes who want to start new, tribally managed herds, or grow and supplement existing herds through continuing restoration efforts.

For imagery, including b-roll and photography of the buffalo release at the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, please visit this link.

About The InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC)
ITBC is a federally chartered Tribal organization, formed in 1992 as a gathering of 17 Tribes. Today, it now has a membership of 76 Tribal Nations and growing every year, sharing a mission to restore buffalo to Indian Country to preserve our historical, cultural, traditional, and spiritual relationship for future generations. To reestablish healthy buffalo populations on Tribal lands is to reestablish hope for Indian people. Returning buffalo to Tribal lands will help to heal the land, the animal, and the spirit of Indian people.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.