Buffalo Field Campaign Advisory Board Member, Thia Martin, and I headed out from Boulder on a 7 hour road trip to Telluride last Thursday for Mountainfilm, an international four-day festival packed with films, speakers, art and events celebrating indomitable spirit. We were honored to have our documentary short film, Our National Mammal, selected for such an inspirational festival.

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Thia and Justine at Thursday evening’s film makers dinner and opening celebration.

The next day, Friday, we were excited to explore the lay out of the many Mountainfilm venues. We wanted to ground ourselves into the place in preparation for the screening of Our National Mammal that evening at ‘Base Camp’. This outdoor theater, located in Telluride’s town park, was the perfect setting for sharing the buffalo story. The “bowl” or box canyon is surrounded high peaks, aspens, and evergreens. We knew the landscape was part of the audience and it felt perfect!

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Base Camp Theater, Mountainfilm, Telluride, CO

Our National Mammal was set to screen that Friday evening at 8:45pm. We arrived an hour early and took the opportunity to pass out BFC newsletters and brochures to movie goers who arrived early to picnic in the park.

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BFC Board President, Justine Sanchez, hands out outreach materials

Thia and I introduced ourselves to the evening’s MFF emcee, Colin Sullivan, and he informed us that he would be bringing us out on stage after the film for a Q & A! He also shared that as one of the Mountainfilm on Tour presenters, he was nominating our film to go on tour! We were surprised, excited and a bit nervous as we had not known we would be asked to speak about the film and the buffalo. We were thrilled to think that the story of the buffalo could join the festival’s tour. (Contact MFF & encourage them to select Our National Mammal for the tour, www.mountainfilm.org).

Over 300 people filled the park to watch Our National Mammal. The story of our last wild migratory bison echoed off the box canyon walls and inspired a new community of people to join our buffalo family.

Our National Mammal, 13 minute documentary short, Executive Producer & Director, Thia Martin, Associate Producer & Story Editor, Buffalo Field Campaign

The next morning, Saturday, we headed up via gondola to MFF’s ‘High Camp’. In my capacity as BFC board member I was invited to sit on a panel during one of the festival’s Coffee & Conversation. I joined Rodrigo Medellin, ecologist, professor and bat expert, Joseph Dane, HawkWatch development and marketing director, and Florian Schultz, renowned wildlife photographer for an hour long discussion on the Blockades to the Migratory Path. I explained that the government-led war against the buffalo, the human element, was the biggest blockade to the natural migration of our last wild bison.

I also highlighted how the work of BFC, following the wisdom of the buffalo, has brought about the protection of the Horse Butte Peninsula, the only ‘kill-free’ zone on our public lands for wild bison to inhabit.

Thia and I continued to be the voice for the buffalo at Sunday’s Take Action & Reading Frenzy event back at High Camp. We set up a BFC table with calendars, stickers, newsletters and brochures. Many people stopped by to share how they were so touched by the film. They hadn’t known of the buffalo’s plight. For two hours we educated, networked, and celebrated our sacred buffalo. We are grateful to Mountainfilm for choosing Buffalo Field Campaign as one of the non-profits to be supported by the festival.

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For the Buffalo during MFF’s Reading Frenzy & Take Action event.

As word of the buffalo spread, we were approached by long time friend of the buffalo, Ken Stack, and his wife, Linda as they wanted to host a Sunday night dinner to honor the bison at their home up canyon from Telluride. The community showed up for the buffalo by attending the dinner and helping us to get a projector (thanks to Dr. Kent Gaylord), acquiring a copy of our film to screen (thanks to MFF’s Hayley Nenadal), offering to show it again at the local high school (thanks to Ramona & Soleil Gaylord), and inviting us out to L.A. for another screening and dinner in October (thanks to Tim Tattoo).

We had a delicious dinner prepared by Linda, an outrageous dessert crafted by Tim, and rich and engaging conversation that encompassed many subjects ranging from the always asked, “Why??”, to how the film was made, to questions on the morality of quarantine, to how folks could get more involved.

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Ken & Linda Stack and Tim Tattoo join the herd and become Buffalo Guardians, sustaining BFC members. Thank you for your support!

As Thia and I drove home on Monday, exhausted yet energized at the same time, we continued to dream and envision a future for the buffalo that is just, honorable, and fair. We felt grateful for the abundance that our mighty bison had bestowed upon us.

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BFC Advisory Board Member, Thia Martin, and BFC Board Member, Justine Sanchez, bid Mountainfilm a fond farewell.

Today, as I reflect on my time at Mountainfilm, I decided to revisit the 2014 Open Letter to the Tribes written by BFC co-founder and Lakota Elder, Rosalie Little Thunder, and BFC Habitat Coordinator, Darrell Geist, for some guidance and wisdom. What follows are some of Rosalie’s final words for the buffalo before she passed away:

“Following instinctive faithfulness to calving grounds, migratory buffalo must run a lethal gauntlet of Treaty and state hunters along the Park's borders to adjoining National Forest lands. Wild buffalo must further suffer the harm of captivity in traps on public and private lands. This near-threatened and ecologically extinct native species is further subject to population control experiments with sterilizing agents. Our heritage of wild buffalo is quarantined to produce new offspring for commercial domestic profit. An arbitrary line is drawn on the map beyond which migratory buffalo can never roam again.

"Traditional people must guide our tribal leadership in a manner that reflects the integrity of our historical and cultural relationship with our relative, the buffalo. Montana politics has made a mockery of a keystone species. The capitalist culture has commodified the buffalo for shameless profit. The slaughter of the buffalo is not about a disease, really. It is about a commodity and profiting from that commodity. We, as a species, must take into account how our beliefs and actions are affecting the future of all species. We must make every effort to acknowledge the need for a care-taking culture that respects and honors the role of a sacred species.”

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BFC Co-Founder, Lakota elder Rosalie Little Thunder

For the buffalo,
Justine Sanchez
BFC Board Member