Plain Bison Protection Treaty: Renewing Cultural and Spiritual Relationships with the Bison and the Landscape

1280px-American_bison_k5680-1.jpgPRINCE ALBERT MODEL FOREST

Since the end of the 19th century, bison populations in North American have declined to near extinction. Populations of bison are now being re-introduced into parts of Canada, but there are still existing populations in decline.

In the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, there is a free-roaming population of bison called the Sturgeon River Plains Bison, located in the central-interior. This specific population has been in decline for almost a decade, due to unsustainable harvesting and an anthrax outbreak. Pressure such as these may endanger the Sturgeon River Plains Bison population to a level of extirpation within the next decade.

In response, the Buffalo Nation to Nation Treaty is a process aiming to facilitate discussions between Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan to protect and maintain sustainable populations of bison, as well as strengthen Indigenous cultural and spiritual relationships with the bison.

This process is in support of the extension of the Northern Tribes Buffalo Treaty into North-Central Saskatchewan, first introduced in 2014. More than 20 tribes and Indigenous communities (First Nations) in the United States and Canada already signed the treaty.

Treaty 6 is an agreement between the Canadian monarch and the Plains and Woods Cree, Assiniboine, and other band governments of First Nations at Fort Carlton and Fort Pitt. The area agreed upon by the Plains and Woods Cree represents most of the central area of the current provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta. The treaty signings began in August 1876. - Wikipedia

As a Treaty Six Nation, Mistawasis Nêhiyawak, a partner of the Prince Albert Model Forest (PAMF), is taking the lead as facilitator on a collaborative project, with the PAMF and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) providing coordination and organizational services.

To that end, the Buffalo Nation to Nation Treaty actively engages communities through educational materials and information, informal and formal meetings and visits, youth activities, open houses, and presentations.

To date, two open houses were held to allow Treaty Six Territory Nations to learn more about the Buffalo Nation to Nation Treaty and provide input towards the ceremony and signing event in September. A Youth For Bison Day was held at Chief Mistawasis School to educate students on the Sturgeon River herd, and the role of bison on the landscape and within their culture. Students also designed flags that will be flying during the Ceremony and Signing event.

“Our vision for this initiative is to strengthen support to maintain a healthy population for the Sturgeon River herd, for future generations, and to renew cultural and spiritual relationships with the bison and the landscape.”

Sarah Schmid, General Manager of the Prince Albert Model Forest.

This treaty, in this case understood as an open and non-binding collaborative initiative, is about Indigenous communities taking back responsibility and control. It will be up to communities to decide if they wish to be part of the process, which can unite political power of different Indigenous communities, lead the restoration of bison populations and possibly help promote healing of the relationship between Indigenous communities and governments.

Prince Albert Model Forest and Mistawasis Nêhiyawak will encourage the involvement of other Treaty Six Territory members, to support and eventually lead the efforts to maintain the Sturgeon River herd, as well as strengthen other established and future herds in Saskatchewan.

For more information:

Sarah Schmid
Prince Albert Model Forest
s.schmid099@gmail.com

Picture: Bison Bison, by Jack Dykinga, United States Department of Agriculture. Public Domain.

Published 30 August 2017