Of Bison and Humans
by Three Hawks (Oklahoma Tsalagi)
I am of Cherokee/Choctaw descent and wish to share the lessons I have learned from our Earth Teachers and the old ones who have patiently instructed me in the honoring of our Earth Mother and all our relations who do not speak with a human voice. Without the natural world, the human world would not exist. As nations continue to grow in population and expand their cities, our natural world is seldom given consideration and they have no voice which the governments understand.
It is an honor for me to write on their behalf, to be a small voice in the wilderness of humanity that others might understand our interdependence on animals, birds, fish, and all things natural. I do not speak for any Native Nation, nor any Native American person. I write from the heart, from things my relations have spoken that I might make their voices heard.
All that is natural seeks balance and nothing natural needs a human to make this happen.
We need them.
I am the largest land animal in North America and my picture often symbolizes the American West during the time of settlers, wagon trains, Cowboys and Indians, and you will even see my image on some of your money.
You likely know me as the American Buffalo, although in technical terms some of you refer to me as Bison. By what name I am known to you is not as important as the role we have played throughout life history.
When the explorer Columbus landed on Turtle Island in the late 1400's, my family population was estimated at nearly 60,000,000 and our home range was the majority of what is now called the United States, with some of our Wood Bison cousins living in the area of Canada. By 1890, our estimated population was around one thousand as we neared total extinction from being hunted by settlers, and slaughtered by others to starve out the 'Indians'.
Although some of your ancestors of that time raised concerns about this slaughter, nothing was actually done to bring it to an end as the government encouraged this killing to meet their goal of containing the Plains Indians. Sadly, this apathy among your kind continues to this day as cattle ranchers have taken land once ours to range their cattle for profit. This may not raise alarm with some of you concerning us, but consider that the greatest slaughter of my family took place between 1850 and 1890, and if we were to be killed at the rate of 1000 per day, it would take 164 of your years to complete this cycle, and yet, humans were able to achieve this in less than 40 years. This gives you an idea of what my family endured at the hands of humans.
This demonstrates the mindset of those whose life quest was based on greed for land and genocide of a native people; those who lived in harmony with their surroundings knowing that how they treated the earth and her inhabitants would come back full circle to their way of life.
Native Americans had great respect for my family members and took what they needed without killing an entire herd. We were honored with song and dance and our spirits were respected with the ensuing hunt. Our numbers were not greatly affected by their hunting as we were prolific and maintained our ability to do our part in keeping the natural world in balance.
There are many things you can learn about yourself from my family as we all share this small planet together. Native People looked to nature for lessons, warmth and livelihood and realized that all natural things are teachers and speak to us if only we take time to listen.
The males in my family can grow to around 2000 pounds and nearly 6 feet high at the shoulders, and although we may seem to be slow and cumbersome, we can run to speeds of 35 miles per hour. This is good to remember when meeting others of your species so that you don't assume one thing about that person when something entirely different may be the case. When we graze, we continue to move so we do not lay waste to the land and our hooves loosen the earth as we walk, run, or wallow which in turn makes it easier for grasses to grow and critters to dig. This is a reminder to you that there will be times you must move quickly and times to move more at ease, but whatever your pace, be considerate of what you are doing to our Earth Mother and not destroy or disrespect what is around you.
Our great strength is needed to walk this journey we have been given and will teach you that there will be times in your own life that you will need great strength to continue on your path and reach your goals. When the snow is heavy and food is scarce, we will use our massive heads to push snow aside and find grasses lying underneath. Keep in mind that as we do this, so you also can use your head in stressful situations rather than giving in to panic. Look at the whole situation, use your head (emotions don't move snow very well) and keep going until you resolve the situation or find the grass you are looking for. The cold winds of change will figuratively blow through your life from time to time and emotional winters can be endured with the right type of insulation. Our heavy winter hair is a reminder to you of this and just as you see us shed this heavy coat in the spring, so you are reminded that there will come the day you can shed the concerns you had during that winter time that settled upon your path.
Native Americans wasted nothing we had to offer. Our bones were tools and weapons, our hides clothing and shelter, our bladders water and boiling bags, and even our tails made good fly swatters. They understood, and many still understand, that taking a life is a serious thing and when this must be done, honor should be a large part of the process leaving little to zero waste. Here I would ask you humans to think about how much waste is created on your earth walk as you eat and build homes, buy new things or just get tired of what you have had for a time. Settlers and hunters were known to kill us, take our tongues and hides and leave the rest to rot on the plains. Waste created by greed and lack of respect. We Buffalo had no need for landfills nor did we bury toxic waste beneath the skin of our Earth Mother. All worked in a beautiful cycle from our birth to our fertilizing the ground in our death and in feeding others.
If you see our story in some of your films, you will learn that we are very protective of our young and our herd works together for survival. Humans have much to learn here where difference seems to divide rather than bring together.
We have long been a celebrated part of nature with Native America and still hold that place with many who honor the respectful ways passed to them by the ones who have gone before them.
Where we once roamed free as was our birth right, now we are few in numbers and except for some of my family in your Yellowstone Park, most of us are in protected areas...fenced in and no longer free. In Yellowstone, your species still have issues with us and often ranchers will lure my family members outside of the Park and kill us the minute we cross some invisible line that has been drawn, all in the name of raising cattle on land once ours. Interestingly, our meat is much healthier than cattle but your species has a way of using the media to circumvent these truths. We have been accused of carrying a disease called 'brucellosis' which causes cattle to abort, and it has been shown with your science this is of low occurrence in my family but much higher among our Elk cousins; but still we are destroyed on our lands out of a fear that is without foundation.
I hope you will think of these things when you next see some of my family whether it be from a picture or in person, and remember that all of nature has something to say if only one would take time to listen.
My family and I appreciate those of you who work hard to help us survive and it is because of these caring humans and their efforts that our population is slowly coming back in these times.
Chief Dan George said in part,...'what we don't know, we fear...what we fear...we destroy' and I can only hope you will learn more about my family and the role we play in keeping things in balance. We do our part...may you do the same!
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