Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cherokee Bison Herd on the Increase

It’s a girl! It’s been only six months since the Cherokee Nation acquired bison from the Dakotas, but there’s already been a special delivery.  The Cherokee Nation’s first bison calf, a healthy female, was born in the early morning of April 8, weighing in at 90 pounds. Eight more have been born since then on 200 acres the herd is kept on in Delaware County. More are expected by June.

The calves are acclimating well and staying close to their protective mothers in more wooded areas right now. “The birth of these spring calves is an excellent sign for the growth of our bison herd. It means the herd has settled into its new home and they are flourishing,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “The reintroduction of bison to the Cherokee Nation is significant because it allows our people to reconnect with an important chapter in our history, when bison were essential to our daily lives.”

Although bison are associated more with the Great Plains tribes, herds ranged from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Coast and Cherokees used bison as a food source until colonization.  Its skins were used for blankets, hair woven into belts and horns carved into utensils. That breed of bison was nearly extinct after European contact.

Last fall the Cherokee Nation received a herd of 38 cows from the Badlands National Park in South Dakota and 12 bulls from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. The relocation was possible through an agreement with the InterTribal Buffalo Council. It’s the first time the Cherokee Nation has raised a herd of bison in its 14-county jurisdiction in decades. The tribe had a few bison near Tahlequah to promote tourism in the 1970s. The herd currently stands at 59 bison. The tribe hopes it will grow to at least 200. About a thousand acres is available for the herd, and additional lands will be opened up as it expands.

The tribe’s Natural Resources department oversees and cares for the bison. To ensure the health and vitality of the herd, the Cherokee Nation will conduct yearly genetic testing on the herd and keep records on each animal.“The herd is doing great since relocating, and each bison has already put on about 150 pounds,” said Bison Herdsman Chris Barnhart. “It’s great to see these new calves being born and the public driving by to get a glimpse of them.”

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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