On October 26, 2021, the Chippewa Cree Indigenous community welcomed 11 bison to Rocky Boy land for the first time in more than 30 years. The new herd included five bison from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and six bison contributed by American Prairie. The creation of this new herd also marked a milestone in Montana as all seven federally recognized reservation lands in the state now manage bison herds.
Members of the Rocky Boy Veterans Center color guard, honorary dancers, and tribal dignitaries wait for the grand entry ceremony to begin at the bison release on the Rocky Boy Reservation.
The Rocky Boy Indigenous communities celebrated the event with a gathering that included nearly 300 community members from across the Reservation. Nine buses brought approximately 200 school children to attend from the Box Elder and Rocky Boy communities, and around 100 adult community members were also in attendance. Throughout the day there were speeches, traditional dancing, singing, and drumming, and tribal trivia and language games for the kids, led by Dustin Whitford, Director of the Mahchiwminahnahtik Chippewa and Cree Language Revitalization group.
Harlan Gopher Baker, Chairman of the Chippewa Cree Rocky Boy Executive Branch, addresses the crowd gathered for the bison release.
Several Tribal leaders addressed the gathering, including Rocky Boy Executive Branch members and members of the Rocky Boy Buffalo Project Board. Rocky Boy Sustainability Coordinator Jason Belcourt reflected on the monumental event, telling the Great Falls Tribune, "The buffalo wanted to come home."
Belcourt, the Buffalo Board, and the Chippewa Cree community completed years of planning to lay the groundwork for the bison's return. That work included a trip to see American Prairie's herd and facilities and to visit with American Prairie's Senior Bison Restoration Manager, Scott Heidebrink. Heidebrink attended the release at Rocky Boy along with 10 other American Prairie staff members.
American Prairie Bison Restoration Manager Scott Heidebrink.
"It's great to see bison back on this land again," Heidebrink said. "It will be great for the landscape ecologically, but even more importantly, the bison have come back to the Chippewa-Cree people. I could see the excitement, importance, and significance as these bison trotted across the landscape. It was as if something that had been missing was now back in its correct place."
American Prairie has contributed hundreds of animals to tribal and conservation herds across the country since reintroducing bison on our lands in 2005. Learn more about the American Prairie Bison Restoration Program.
Bison are released onto Rocky Boy Agency for the first time in more than 30 years.