The connection between the Indian spirit and the buffalo has been strengthened through the InterTribal Buffalo Council over the years, and on December 30 the Cherokee Nation became the 59th tribe to join the organization.
The ITBC began in 1990 as a cooperative to coordinate and assist tribes in returning the buffalo to Indian country, and it was incorporated in the state of Colorado in September of 1992, according to the ITBC website.
“The American buffalo, also known as bison, has always held great meaning for American Indian people. To Indian people, buffalo represent their spirit and remind them of how their lives were once lived, free and in harmony with nature. In the 1800s, the white-man recognized the reliance Indian tribes had on the buffalo. Thus began the systematic destruction of the buffalo to try to subjugate the western tribal nations. The slaughter of over 60 million buffalo left only a few thousand buffalo remaining,” the ITBC website says.
“Without the buffalo, the independent life of the Indian people could no longer be maintained. The Indian spirit, along with that of the buffalo, suffered an enormous loss. At that time, tribes began to sign treaties with the U.S. Government in an attempt to protect the land and the buffalo for their future generations. The destruction of buffalo herds and the associated devastation to the tribes disrupted the self-sufficient lifestyle of Indian people more than all other federal policies to date.”
The ITBC coordinates the transfer of surplus buffalo from national parks to tribal lands. It also provides training and technical assistance to its members. At least three other Oklahoma tribes are members, according to the ITBC website.
For the Cherokee Nation, joining the ITBC is the initial step in determining whether it is feasible for the tribe to acquire bison for tourism or commercial use.
“The Cherokee Nation’s acceptance into the InterTribal Buffalo Council is a very positive move in the bison acquisition process,” Gunter Gulager, director of Cherokee Nation Natural Resources, said in a Cherokee Nation press release. “As a member of this council, the tribe will have access to the bison within our country’s national parks and be able to call upon experts to aid in the development of a business plan that best suits the tribe.”
The next step for the Cherokee Nation involves the Cherokee Nation Natural Resources department to work with the ITBC to develop a business plan that will go before the tribal council in January or February.
According to ITBC, “To reestablish healthy buffalo populations on tribal lands is to reestablish hope for Indian people.”