Indigenous-owned business welcomes buffaloes to tribal lands

Native Wise, a Native owned and operated business in Sawyer, MN, now has twelve buffaloes on its 380 acre farm.

“It’s amazing. Every morning I wake up and come out here, and I just pinch myself,” co-owner David Wise said. “I’ve had a passion for bison all my life. that they were amazing animals.

The bison were rounded up from one of the Nature conservation‘s preserves in Nebraska.

“The Nature Conservancy has been managing bison herds on our preserve, the lands we own within the bison range in North America, for some time,” said Chris Dunham, director of Resilience Forestry. “This management has really been centered around the importance of bison to the ecological landscape.”

Wise aspires to let bison use his land and bring back the diversity of native plants.

“Not all of these areas are as diverse as they could be. They’re not as productive as they could be,” Wise said. “And when you have animals on this land, especially buffaloes, do they promote native plants coming out? And, you know, you know, I think that’s going to be a good thing. It will be lasting for many generations.

Tanka Funda non-profit organization based in South Dakota, transported the buffalo with the goal of restoring a sustainable buffalo economy that enriches the lives of native people.

“Buffaloes were almost too close to extinction in the late 1800s, and now we have, I think, around 500,000 across the country that have come back through private producers, non-profit organizations lucrative and tribal herds,” said Tanka Fund Business Development Manager Arnell Abold. “Ideally, we would just like to keep developing them. With the right management and the right attitudes and celebrations, it turns around. It is very successful. So we are very happy to be part of it.

While part of the inspiration is the conservation of the species, the restoration of bison on Indigenous lands also has cultural significance.

“That buffalo is important in Indigenous communities, and there’s just a cultural and spiritual connection and that comes from many years ago, hundreds of years, thousands of years, where we worked together in permanence,” explained Abold. “The bison and the people who survived the era. They were our food, our clothes, our shelter. And we took care of them. They take care of us.

The land on which Native Wise sits has been owned by the same family for many generations.

“I didn’t really realize how far back it was until I started doing research,” Wise said. “As a child, we lived only five kilometers from here. And there are trails through the woods to my grandmother’s house, where I lived, near where she lived, and so we even walked here when I was a child to visit to my great-aunt. She was a great baker. She has an old, old wood stove in the house which is still there.

Learning more about his family’s history inspired Wise to bring buffaloes back to the farm. This is the first time that bison have been found within the boundaries of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa since European settlement.

“I was actually writing an article about my family tree, and Chief Buffalo was my great-great-grandfather. After I wrote this story about him, I had a dream and he said, ‘Bring back my namesake’,” Wise said.

The arrival of the bison was celebrated on Friday afternoon with a prayer, a welcome song for the bison and a community meal.

“Today is just about being present at the celebration and celebrating the contribution of the cultural buffalo to Indigenous communities,” Dunham said.

The bison are currently in a corral while they get used to their new home. Wise hopes to open doors to give them enough space to move around in the coming days.

“I mean, it’s a dream. I just hope it continues, you know, we tried to build some really good fences and, you know, we try to give them a good place to feed,” Wise said. “I think they will really make a great source of food for the community. We plan to do ceremonial harvests and maybe food donations for different ceremonies and things like that.

James C. Tibbs