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Indigenous Communities

Our closest neighboring Indigenous communities include Fort Belknap Indian Community to the west, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes to the east, and the Chippewa Cree Rocky Boy Tribes to the northwest. Developing strong relationships within Montana’s Indigenous communities is important to us as we work to preserve and honor the land, to rebuild a seamless landscape for people and wildlife, and to tell the intricate story and history of the region. Many within these Indigenous communities share the vision of a fully functioning prairie ecosystem, and hold a deep and meaningful connection to the spiritual and cultural benefits of bison and wildlife restoration. By respecting and learning about and from these communities, we strive to gain a deeper understanding of tribal heritage. In addition to being good over-the-fence neighbors, we seek to develop mutually beneficial collaborations with Montana’s Indigenous communities, working with and alongside one another.

 

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American Prairie acknowledges that the landscape we now steward was originally cared for, used, and called home by generations of Indigenous people, including the Aaniiih (Gros Ventre), the Niitsitapi / Pikuni (Blackfeet), the Nakoda / Nakona (Assiniboine), the Lakota / Dakota (Sioux), Apsáalooke (Crow), Ojibwe / Annishinabe / Ne-i-yah-wahk (Chippewa Cree), and Métis (Little Shell Chippewa).

We are grateful for the past and present stewardship of these Indigenous communities, and we honor their spiritual and cultural connection to the land. We recognize that the modern history of this region has led to much dispossession and displacement of Indigenous communities from their traditional lands. With history in mind, we commit to a way forward that listens to and learns from our Indigenous neighbors, and respects and shares their deep cultural heritage with generations now and to come.

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Making Connections

Over time, we have been privileged to get to know Montana’s Indigenous communities, and in particular to work with many people in the Aaniiih Nakoda Community, our closest tribal neighbor. This includes many friends and partners within the Fort Belknap Indian Community Tribal Council, the Nakoda Aaniiih Economic Development Corporation, Island Mountain Development GroupAaniiih Nakoda College, and public schools, as well as elders, wildlife managers, and spiritual leaders. We also work with individuals and families in the Aaniiih Nakoda ranching community, who participate in our Wild Sky program.

American Prairie is supportive of Fort Belknap’s tourism efforts to welcome the public to respectfully explore and experience the natural beauty of the Little Rockies, as well as to learn more about the Aaniiih and Nakoda people, historically as well as who they are today. We regularly contract with guides at Aaniiih Nakoda Tours for cultural interpretation on and of the prairie, offering visitors the unique and important opportunity to view the landscape through a lens of Indigenous history and culture. We are also grateful for cultural consultations provided by members of the Aaniiih Nakoda Community as we developed the interpretive exhibits at our National Discovery Center, and as we continue to plan for future programming there.

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In 2014, we invited students from Fort Belknap schools to experience the return of buffalo on American Prairie lands. Six students were chosen to serve as gatekeepers, welcoming 73 bison calves to their new home on the prairie after being transferred from Canada’s Elk Island National Park. 

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As we take part in the story of the landscape, we believe it is important to collaborate and support efforts related to the preservation and sharing of cultural heritage, and we honor and grow from our shared challenges and successes in doing so. Visitors to this landscape have much to learn from those who have called it home for so long. We place great value on our relationships in Montana’s Indigenous communities, and the opportunities we have been afforded over the years to engage and support, when appropriate, in the sharing of story and ceremony, food, language, and essential knowledge. We are grateful for the friendships, guidance, and growth that come to our staff and our organization from time spent in these communities, and look forward to a long path of collaboration and learning.

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On October 26, 2021, the Chippewa Cree Indigenous community welcomed 11 bison to Rocky Boy Agency land for the first time in more than 30 years. The new herd included six bison contributed by American Prairie.

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Bison and Wildlife Restoration

American Prairie is honored to collaborate with tribes to promote cultural awareness, develop educational and economic opportunities, and exchange knowledge — especially when it comes to buffalo. The return and management of buffalo to the landscape is an area where American Prairie and tribal neighbors have found much common ground. The grasslands of the Great Plains hold cultural and spiritual significance for many Indigenous peoples living in Montana, who recognize and value the restoration of native species for both cultural and ecological reasons. As sovereign nations, tribes are uniquely positioned to engage in wildlife restoration, and have often led the way in this work.

We are proud to collaborate with many tribes, in Montana and beyond, to contribute to the growing movement of returning bison to the land, and to keep those herds healthy genetically through animal exchanges. In 2021, American Prairie, along with the Confederated Salish Kootenai, contributed six bison to the new herd at Rocky Boy. We have sent bison to the Quapaw Nation, the Blackfeet Nation, the Pe’Sla site, the WoLakota Buffalo Range, and the One Spirit project. To date, American Prairie has contributed more than 400 buffalo to Indigenous-led conservation herds and efforts around the US, and will continue these distributions and exchanges.  

From 2020-2021, American Prairie’s science partner, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, worked alongside the Nakoda and Aaniiih Tribes of Fort Belknap to reintroduce swift fox after an absence of 50 years. This work built on a more than decade long collaboration to restore bison and other species to the lands of both American Prairie and the tribes. Learn more about this work, honored by the Field Museum’s Parker Gentry Prize on 2021, here and here.

Additional Resources for Learning

Tribal nations have lived in the Great Plains of Montana for thousands of years, each with distinct traditions, languages, art, and lifestyles. We encourage you to learn more about the region’s Indigenous Peoples at the sites below, in addition to visiting the communities themselves.

Links and Resources:


Museums, Visitor Areas, and Interpretive Centers:


Films Online: