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The Return of the Bison

Little by little, bison (or buffalo) are returning to American Indian homelands.
A bison stands alone on a plain with mountains in the background.
© Holly Kuchera/Dreamstime.com

Once, there were millions of bison (or buffalo) in North America. Bison were important to the cultures of many American Indian groups. But by the 1880s, the bison were almost gone. Today, the bison are back. And American Indians are rebuilding their ties with these animals.

The relationship between American Indians and bison started thousands of years ago. The Yuchi, the Sioux, and other American Indian groups relied on bison. The animals provided food, shelter, and clothing. They are still part of American Indian stories, traditions, and beliefs. But when white people began to settle in the West, they killed so many bison that the animals nearly died out.

During this time, white settlers and the U.S. government also forced many American Indians to leave their homelands. Many parts of American Indian culture were lost.

In the late 1800s, the U.S. government started taking steps to save the bison. There were only a few bison left. Officials rounded them up and put them in national parks so that they would be protected. Since then, the bison population has grown to almost 500,000.

And now, steps are being taken to reconnect bison with the American Indian groups that once relied on them. Little by little, some of the bison that live in America’s parks are being returned to American Indians.

In March 2023, dozens of bison were moved from a park in Colorado to the Yuchi of Oklahoma, as well as other American Indian groups. Richard Grounds of the Yuchi people said the return of the bison is helping to restore Yuchi culture.

“We’ve lost that connection to the buffalo,” Grounds told the Associated Press. “So we’re saying, we Yuchi people are still here and the buffalo are still here, and it’s important to reconnect and restore those relationships with the land, with the animals, and the plants.”

Did You Know

Prints and Photographs Division/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC-DIG-pga-01894)
Experts believe there were once 30 to 60 million bison in North America. By the 1880s, only a few hundred were left.

Many Stories

November is American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. (It’s also known as Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month.) One way to learn about American Indian cultures is to read books by American Indian authors. Here are just a few you might want to check out.

A boy in a jacket and with a backpack on his back stands outside a subway entrance.
Puffin Chapter Books
Eagle Song, by Joseph Bruchac

Fourth grader Danny moves to New York City from a Mohawk Nation reservation. Danny is homesick and having trouble fitting in, but he soon realizes he can settle in his new home without letting go of his cultural traditions.

A girl with a backpack on her back looks back as she runs toward an erupting volcano.
Penguin Random House

Lei and the Fire Goddess, by Malia Maunakea

Twelve-year-old Anna is getting tired of hearing her grandmother’s stories from her Native Hawaiian culture. She just wants to fit in with the other kids at school. But when one of her friends needs help, Anna realizes just how much her culture is part of who she is.
HarperCollins

Healer of the Water Monster, by Brian Young

On a visit to his grandmother’s home, a Navajo boy named Nathan gets lost in the desert and finds that the Water Monster needs his help. Can Nathan be a healer to the monster and to the people he loves?

American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month

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Alamy: photo-fox, Pictorial Press Ltd.; Getty: Keystone—Hulton Archive, grandriver—E+,Carl Iwasaki—The Chronicle Collection, Joseph Prezioso—AFP; Pete Souza—Barack Obama Presidential Library/National Archives, Washington, D.C.; © Jose Gil/Shutterstock.com; Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (digital no. cph 3b32945); Robert Markowitz—Johnson Space Center/NASA; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

American Indians are sometimes called Native Americans or Indigenous peoples. Did you know that the first Indigenous people arrived in North America thousands of years ago?

You can learn more at Britannica!

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