Prior to European colonization of North America, millions of bison roamed the Great Plains. By the turn of the 20th century, those numbers had dropped to less than 1,000. The deliberate decimation of buffalo herds was a direct attack on the Native American people, who colonizers saw as an obstacle to their "Manifest Destiny," and who the U.S. government engaged in a systematic attempt to eliminate or force into docile submission.
For thousands of years, bison were a sacred, inseparable part of life for Indigenous tribes of the Great Plains, used for food, shelter, utensils, and clothing, in addition to spiritual and emotional well-being. Wiping out the bison population nearly wiped out the Native tribes they were connected to.
Though bison numbers have increased significantly thanks to conservation efforts, governments are still grappling with the ugly legacy, and some municipalities are taking steps to try to repair some of the damage done. As one example, the city of Denver, Colorado has taken the step of giving some of the city's bison population managed by Denver Parks and Recreation to Native American tribes engaged in bison conservation efforts.
In a unanimous 13-0 vote, Denver City Council gave the final approval Monday to donate 13 buffalo—around half of which are pregnant—to the Cheyenne and Arapaho nations in Oklahoma and one buffalo to Tall Bull Memorial Council in Colorado. In addition, Denver Parks and Recreation will no longer hold its annual auction to keep its bison herds at a healthy population size and ensure genetic diversity, but rather will work with tribal partners through the year 2030 to give surplus bison to Native tribes across the country to enhance conservation herds on tribal lands.
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