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Majestic Yellowstone Bison Receive Native American Prayers

Scott Frazier Project Indigenous

By: Shelley Bluejay Pierce
(as appeared in various publications, including Cheyenne-Arapahoe Times)

ARDINER, Montana- Sacred prayers and songs were lifted for the Yellowstone buffalo herd by Native American elders led by Scott Frazier (Santee/Crow, and assisted by Dr. Henrietta Mann (Cheyenne) and John Potter (Ojibway). The resting buffalo were gathered in a large meadow on the South edge of Yellowstone Park near the boundary line that stands literally for life or death if crossed by the bison during the winter months when they travel outside park perimeters in search of better forage.

Buffalo herds once numbered 30 to 60 million across North America but were slaughtered nearly to the point of extinction during the late 1800s. As of the spring of 2006, the Yellowstone herd has approximately 3,500 remaining buffalo. Forced to remain inside the confines of Yellowstone Park, the buffalo are subjected to repeated harassment or death as a result of leaving the border lines the animals do not see nor sense.

Buffalo were the sustaining force for the American Indian people for centuries. The balance of supply and demand, weather patterns, and over use of one part of the ecological web affected both bison and human. The plains tribes honor the buffalo in their religious belief and ceremony, depended upon them for their shelter, food, and daily living requirements. Many of the tribes are now part of a hunting program developed by Montana leaders who say buffalo must be killed to keep population in balance. Their efforts are attempting to return some of the buffalo back to the tribes that originally hunted them originally in this area.

Scott Frazier has spent the better part of his life attempting to help protect the Yellowstone herd. When trying to explain the spiritual impact the buffalo have for the people, he explains, “I’ve been asked many times why the buffalo are so important. I have always seen them as the life that is holy. The buffalo has always been the life force of this land. They gave themselves in many ways so that others could learn, live, and be religiously fulfilled. Peoples of the plains could have not found the strength to exist without the buffalo. There is a power unknown to humans that the buffalo answers.”

Though the struggle to procure extra grazing land as a buffer zone for the bison herd outside the park’s boundaries has been attempted, there has not been an entirely affective solution to the problems of migrating buffalo yet.

Despite enormous public outcry by Native tribes, wildlife protection groups and the worldwide community of visitors who come to Yellowstone, the agreement between federal and state agencies continues to places the economic interest of Montana’s livestock industry above the welfare of the buffalo herd.

With the Federal and State government agencies in control, the buffalo have been chased by helicopter and snowmobiles, captured and held in pens, endured experimental testing and slaughter programs that have all resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 Yellowstone buffalo since the mid 1980s. There were 0 kills in the 1999/2000 season but that number skyrocketed to 1,016 buffalo killed during the 2005/2006 season.

Buffalo are migratory like other wildlife in the park and they naturally seek out better food supplies during the heavy snows in winter and spring. Crossing a park boundary line into the path of domestic cattle is leading to their demise where Montana’s livestock industry and the state of Montana maintains a zero-tolerance policy for wild buffalo.

Scott Frazier and those who know the significance of the buffalo hope and pray there will be changes to the treatment the herd has historically been given.

Scott explains this relationship with the buffalo by saying, “The buffalo are trying to awaken us to understand the potential of all relationships to the creation. There are those who walk with the buffalo. They come here to stand in the light of the moment. There is a great relationship happening here, between the holy and the human. It has always been my belief that the buffalo are studying us and relating their findings to the Creator. We are under the microscope of the cosmos in a time when we as humans consider ourselves a higher life form. However, in this time we grow old and change is slow. Many humans do not understand their relationship within the balance and continue to treat the animals poorly. Some humans forget their potential to change and become holy. The buffalo are here to help awaken those people to change. They don’t realize that the buffalo are watching.”

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