After being slaughtered to near extinction in the 1800s, American bison are slowly making a comeback thanks to conservation efforts.
The latest conservation project comes from Denver Parks and Recreation and aims to not only restore bison populations but also offer reparations to Native American Tribes negatively impacted by the decline of the species. White explorers, professional hunters and frontiersmen killed bison for sport and as a starvation tactic. A population of 30 million American bison was whittled down to about 1,000 by the turn of the 20th century.
Denver has now established a 10-year ordinance to donate surplus bison from their own conservation herds to Native American Tribes across the country looking to bolster their own populations. The initiative is the result of 10 years of talks and trust-building with tribal partners which, this week, culminated in the first bison making their way from Colorado to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma and the Tall Bull Memorial Council in Colorado.
13 female bison went to Oklahoma and one went to the Tall Bull Memorial Council - and at least half of the bison were pregnant. So, they will have, six or seven calves, probably in the next three or four weeks.
Although the donation will never be able to fully offer reparations for the close to 30 million bison killed for sport and to harm Native American communities, the offer is a sign of apology and a symbol of collaboration and respect moving forwards. “I don’t think it’s ever too late to acknowledge the challenges and the wrongs of the past,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. "We got a chance to simply apologize, acknowledge the challenges of the past and to forge a relationship going forward that allows us to exercise our common objectives around the conservation of the tribal lands and of these animals."
Nathan Hart, executive director of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes’ business department told NPR, “Everybody’s really excited to grow the herd with this addition. The bison was very significant to our well-being in the past - we still have a lot of respect for the animal.”