2020 06 18 01 001 OTBT 1 BFC Stephany Seay photo

A bull buffalo wrestles with a lodgepole pine tree.
Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.

Welcome to the first summer edition of On the Buffalo Trail. I hope this finds you and your loved ones well. My family is healthy and finding a groove of sorts during these tumultuous times. The times are tumultuous in our country not just due to the Coronavirus, but also due to the protests that have driven communities to stand against racial injustice and systemic bias. Buffalo Field Campaign has issued a statement standing with Black Lives Matter. We empathize with all communities of color who have experienced systemic discrimination and bias. As a person of color, I too stand with my black and brown brothers and sisters. I make my stance known, because too many times I have been on the receiving end of racism.

I have experienced racism as a Nez Perce living in Idaho and as a tribal member of a buffalo hunting tribe in Montana. This past winter I was in Gardiner, Montana monitoring a Nez Perce Tribal hunt. I was with my oldest son and two family friends. A woman drove up to us and stopped her vehicle in the middle of the road. I greeted her, “What’s up?” Her face contorted into a look of hate and she responded vehemently: “Nothing, just looking at you stinking Indians!” I was stunned and immediately looked to my son who was confused and hurt by the words hurled at us. The color of our skin and the people we represented were somehow less than the woman who sat in her vehicle sneering at us with superiority.

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Two young bulls spar with one another.
Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.

It has been years since I chose to hunt a buffalo. I know that woman hates tribal people and the buffalo hunt provided an outlet to show it. I love Brother Buffalo, and take my responsibility as a spokesman for their growth very seriously. However, my personal choice not to hunt buffalo is a decision I wouldn’t ask any indigenous person to do. The lives of buffalo and Native Americans are intertwined, and have been since time immemorial. While I have refrained from taking the life of a buffalo, I wholeheartedly support the exercise of treaty hunting rights. The culprits of bison mismanagement are the state and federal agencies who orchestrate the annual slaughter of Yellowstone bison herds. To extend any angst to tribes is misplacing energy and resources, but I digress.

When I discuss systemic discrimination in the realm of Yellowstone bison management, I refer to that which is directed at Native Peoples. For too long Tribes have shouldered the burden of the bison policy set by state and federal actors. Historic Federal Indian Policy dictated Indians be subdued by taking away native food sources. Hired guns with the sanction of the U.S. government slaughtered millions of buffalo. Today, the Custer Gallatin National Forest is attempting to harness tribal treaty rights even more, by advocating against the discharge of firearms in Beattie Gulch. Those state and federal agencies created the canned hunt in Beattie Gulch in the very policies they established. The very problem they created now requires their solution. The politics of Yellowstone buffalo is wrought with discriminatory intent. Understand the history of bison politics before you point fingers at Tribes for a system forced upon them. Halt the annual state and federal agency-sponsored bison slaughter and you honor treaty rights. Having a vibrant bison population existing beyond Yellowstone National Park supports the persistence and resilience of treaty tribes. Federal and state agencies can do better.

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Buffalo calves represent present gifts and future questions.
Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.

Maybe we will never stamp out the hate that individuals hold in their hearts, but we can struggle against systemic bias and discrimination wherever it appears. I should be able to stand by and witness Tribes hunting and not be assaulted for the color of my skin. On the other hand, state and federal governments must honor their trust responsibility to treaty tribes. To do so they must end their slaughter policies, and manage bison for a robust regional population. Governments must end the systemic biases embodied in historic policy still manifesting today. There is a lot of work to do, and Buffalo Field Campaign is doing our part. Thank you for standing with us as we support Black Lives Matter and all who face and strive to end racism, discrimination, and bias.

For the Buffalo,
James Holt, Sr.
Executive Director, Buffalo Field Campaign

“The Earth and I are of One Mind.”- Chief Joseph, Nez Perce