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Reintroducing Buffalo

Keystone Species

The buffalo's role in the ecosystem and culture of North America's grasslands

Kainai knowledge-keeper Leroy Little Bear explains the importance of reintroducing buffalo in their traditional heartlands, where they hold a central place both in the local ecosystem and the culture of indigenous people.

The buffalo is a "keystone species": an eco-engineer which regenerates the soil, creating the conditions for other species like birds, insects and plants to develop in a rich, interconnected and biodiverse environment. This helps explain the buffalo's cultural and spiritual importance to indigenous people like the Blackfoot Confederation, of which the Kainai are a part. They value the buffalo not as a resource to be exploited, but as a member of an extended family - known as "all my relations" - which must be cared for alongside all the different aspects of the environment.

Leroy Little Bear was the founding director of the Harvard University Native American Program, and in 2014 led the drafting of the historic "Northern Tribes Buffalo Treaty", which called for the return of wild bison to tribal lands to fulfill the animal’s ecological, cultural, and spiritual role, and led to their return to their former home among the Blackfoot.

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