Mammal for Change

by Gryphon_guelph on October 7, 2016 - 10:51pm


This year marks the 10th in a race to bring up bison numbers across North America. Now at this anniversary bench mark, the effort to save the bison have been touted as a success, the first success of its kind for America’s conservation programs. So much so that America has decided to name the bison their national mammal. Around thirty-thousand Bison now roam in their native habitat, however thirty thousand is actually less than one percent of the original population, so why the celebration? The answer is that very few thought that the American bison would survive at all.

A growing pelt trade, a railroad allowing far-reaching export, and the introduction of reliable guns all contributed to the widespread, almost manic hunt of wild bison until the early 20th century. The real reason however for the ‘bison rush’ was that it proved a tool for genocide of Aboriginal peoples across America. Contests, and all manner of cultural norms were used to propagate the slaughter. The military and other hunters were even commissioned by the governing bodies to decimate bison. Since tribes across America relied on the sustainable hunt of bison for food, clothes and cultural practices, wiping out the bison to the level they dipped to in nineteen hundred was a devastating blow to aboriginal livelihoods and culture.

The bill passed in May of this year naming Bison America’s mammal will hopefully bring attention not only to conservation efforts and the dangers of resource exploitation, but also on the plight of Native tribes, historically and today.

Across North America, there is a legacy of mistreatment of Aboriginal peoples. Until recently, Canada and the U.S fervently opposed the UNDRIP, a convention created by the UN to ensure the ethical treatment of First Nations across the globe. Treaties historically have been breached without any legal consequences for the Canadian government and this has created a legacy of distrust stemming into modern day conflicts whenever the government is looking for resources on Aboriginal lands. Recently in a step towards reconciliation, The Northern Tribes Buffalo Treaty has even been signed by First Nations in both Canada and the United States. This is a commitment to conservation and reintroduction into the bison’s native territory. Tribes are finally rewarded after the awful mistreatment of their cultural symbols and themselves.

Today North Americans can be proud of the actions taken to restore this keystone species. I am glad that this success has garnered attention into the power humans do have to right our ecological wrongs. Though the attention is welcome, it should be noted, is also a way for Canadian and American governments to control public opinion, by showing a successful conservation story to the attention of the population could be a way to placate them and throw a shiny story to cover the grim ecological destruction that is still occurring every day in our countries. Furthermore it should not go unnoticed that Native Americans have been a huge reason for the successful conservation of these animals.

For some, the bison is just another animal native to America, one of little consequence however I see this as a way that the American population, whether staunch environmentalist, aristocrat from New York or Aboriginal people can celebrate something together. Though this piece of news, like all news stories is subject to a cycle of issue-attention that will eventually fade, hopefully this will engender a hard look into the realities of the settler’s legacy on First Nations peoples and will be the start of reconciliation of all people in Canada and America.


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I really enjoyed reading your post and I think you covered the depth of this issue quite well. It's very complex when species like bison hold much more significance culturally as well as ecologically. Do you think there was a conscious effort by the government to try and decimate the bison as an attempt to cause a genocide of aboriginal people?

Yes the historical documents and quotes have actually shown that it was a calculated instrument to cut off the Aboriginal populations from both their food, their main material for clothes and their culture. It is sad but luckily is being brought to light now, so that hopefully reparations can be made.

Very well written post and an interesting choice in topic. I think there are a few different ways to look at this. I really like your statement about the Bison, as America’s mammal it will hopefully raise awareness for conservation efforts and resource exploitation and wall as the horrible injustices that Native tribes had to experience at the expense of the Bison. The treatment of Native American’s in North America has a shameful history, and I think its something that needs to be acknowledged. On the other hand, the success of reintroducing the species has shown responsibility, now it needs to be managed and even though we were the source of the Bison demise, we’re taking responsibility by trying to mend what we broke.

In response to Allison’s question, I believe that there was a conscious effort by the government to decimate the bison because they knew the impact would be devastating to Native groups. I think that is why it is so important and significant that the Bison is being reintroduced and that with proper management of their environment and them as a resource, I hope that the Bison are here to stay.

Great post, Thanks for sharing!


I have to say i really really enjoyed this post. I think you really covered all aspects of the growing population of bison within the recent past. I believe that you really hit that nail on the head when you talked about the Native American tribes and that the bison were all that they hunted for food. Great job!

Your topic is one that many people avoid, but it is a great topic that can lead to debates and many opinions being put out. I believe raising awareness of the low count of Bison should open up peoples eyes and look at history and take into consideration that we are in fact the reason for animal counts to be decreasing. How would you go about creating awareness to this situation?