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 Indian Reservation follows a 2014 treaty among tribes in the United States and Canada. That agreement aims to restore bison to areas of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains 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.”
Is that actually true though? This is one of those things that I just don’t know and I have a feeling that going and looking it up would lead to rather a lot of propaganda and not much clarity.
OK, Plains Indians. Definitely there when the Whites started pushing West. There when Lewis and Clark went out 50 odd years earlier. But were they there 300 years before that?
The Plains technology of the time, when the whites got there, depended upon the horse. But the native American horse had been extinct for 10,000 years. Those mustangs and all were descendants of horses that escaped from the Spanish, further South and perhaps also right over on the West Coast. And thus there just weren’t any pre-1500.
Yes, there were very definitely Indians around, settled agricultural communities in the South, fishing and shellfish based ones on the West Coast, farming ones in Nevada, Arizona etc, people all over the East Coast. But out on the plains? Were there really foot based (the largest pack animal was the dog) tribes trying to live off the buffalo out on the plains?
I don’t know and I could imagine it either way. The horse provided the technology to be able to exploit that ecological niche. Or perhaps there really were people doing it on foot. Thing is, does anyone know?
A related question: have there been extensive DNA studies of the different tribes? Do we have a family tree of who split off from whom and when? We are, after all, pretty sure that there was just the one irruption through Alaska (may have been more, but we think only one survived) so it would be rather like that irruption of the Germanic tribes into Europe, sorting themselves out into Lombards, Vandals, Visigoths, Franks, Angles and Saxons and so on. Bit earlier to be sure but……has this ever been done?