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The loss of wild bison since the 19th century has been a devastating cultural and subsistence blow for Indigenous communities. As many as 60 million buffalo once roamed North America, before European settlers slaughtered them to near extinction.

 Buffalo provided the Blackfeet’s primary source of meat, and they used hides for clothing and lodges, sinews for bowstrings, and bladders for containers. The animals played key roles in ceremony and foundational stories. Where the animals migrated, the Blackfeet followed.

The release was the culmination of a decade-long effort championed by the four tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy, which includes the Blackfeet Nation, and supported by wildlife conservationists. It appears to mark the first case in which a tribe released wild bison that will almost certainly make their way onto large neighboring chunks of federal public land.

For many who’ve sunk years into bringing back the animals, the bison release signifies more than just ecological restoration following the national mammal’s near extermination. The effort is also a way to address the legacy of the people who tethered their lives to bison for thousands of years, and who today are leading the charge to restore them.

Conservationists regard bison as a “keystone species,” whose grazing and wallowing played crucial roles in maintaining grassland health and biodiversity. Their long absence from the landscape, however, makes it difficult to fully appreciate their impact.

Source: HuffPost