Russell Means, a prominent Oglala Lakota activist, actor and cancer survivor, is one of several elders scheduled to attend a buffalo harvest March 16 to 18 at Fort Lewis College (FLC), in southwestern Colorado.
“I am very honored to be present at the upcoming buffalo ceremony,” Means told ICTMN. “I look forward to speaking to the students.”
Means is currently undergoing a periodic medical checkup at a Scottsdale, Arizona clinic where he received targeted radiation therapy for throat cancer. He says a combination of that therapy and traditional healing methods have left him “essentially cancer-free.”
His interest in the plans of the Buffalo Council, a Native student organization at FLC, are similar to his support and leadership of a cultural immersion school near his home in the Porcupine area of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He and his brothers have donated acreage to the school, which will promote a self-sustaining community that will teach aquaculture and organic agronomy, among other skills.
The use of a buffalo for the feast at FLC is “a ceremony to promote Indian education as part of the healing process of indigenous communities,” said event organizers. Elders will be asked about a number of points raised in the last several years about FLC’s future and the college’s position on issues of importance to the Buffalo Council, a Native student organization, which is holding the event.
The buffalo harvest will be held near the site of the Fort Lewis Indian School (Old Fort), a former boarding school which has been the center of concern for the council and other Native students after Colorado State University, the former lessee of Old Fort lands, decided in 2010 not to continue the lease that was to have expired in 2017.
The Buffalo Council would like to implement programs similar to those at Means’ immersion school, including a community effort to achieve self-sufficiency through food production, including Native plants and methods, buffalo husbandry as part of indigenized economic development. Their plan would require FLC’s agreement about use of the Old Fort tract.
FLC was created in 1910 by Congress with the intent of “fulfilling treaty obligations with the various tribes” and the state received the 6,300-acre Old Fort tract on condition that it be used as an institution of learning free to Indian students. FLC offers Native American students free tuition, part of which has been paid by dwindling revenues from the tract, the site of two research institutes and other enterprises.
Various uses have been suggested for the State Land Board-administered Old Fort acreage, including its sale, although it may not be clear who owns it, according to state officials. Council members who consider themselves beneficiaries of trust lands created by the treaty have repeatedly and unsuccessfully requested an audit of all the entities that use or have used the Old Fort tract and the revenues generated. They have also requested that their land-use plans for the tract be adopted.
Cultural issues that will be raised with the elders at the buffalo harvest include a need for students’ unhindered access for ceremonial and other purposes at several sites, including unmarked ancestral burials, tipi ceremonial sites, an eagle graveyard along the La Plata River, buffalo kill sites, historical houses, wetlands, areas of old-growth Ponderosa pines, and others, said Pat Kincaid, Cheyenne, a Buffalo Council spokesman.
Some council members have also expressed concern about possible gold and silver mining in the area by Wildcat Mining Corp. near Mount Hesperus, the sacred north mountain of the Diné, and possible impacts on the Old Fort tract.
In addition to Means, other buffalo harvest attendees are to include Cornell Tahdooahnippah, Comanche, the original plaintiff in a 1973 case which affirmed that the state had to provide a tuition-free school for Indian students at FLC; Shoshone-Bannock tribal members Dr. LaNada Warjack and Dr. Tzo-Nah, a professor at Boise State University, and Southern Ute Indian Tribe members Matthew Box, a recent tribal chairman, and Dr. Jim Jefferson, author.
This event was preceded by other Native events in February at FLC, the first of which was an Elder-in-Residence program and the second an initial Native American & Indigenous Leadership Conference.