Indigenous peoples reclaim the National Bison Range

“We are such a place-based people. To have this land back, to be in control of it, is a fresh, new hope.”

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According to High Country News author Anna V. Smith, after 113 years, the 18,800 acres of grassland, woodland, and wildlife that make up the National Bison Range will be returned to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Native American Tribes (CSKT) of Montana’s Flathead Indian Reservation. 

“It’s a reconciliation,” said Chairwoman Shelly Fyant to High Country News. “We are such a place-based people. To have this land back, to be in control of it, is a fresh, new hope.”

According to Native News Online, the transfer was announced by outgoing U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary David L. Bernhardt on Friday, Jan. 15. He signed Secretary’s Order 3390 that transfers the land to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The BIA will formally take the land into trust and restore the land to the Flathead Indian Reservation.

“The restoration of this land is a great historic event and we worked hard to reach this point. This comes after a century of being separated from the buffalo and the Bison Range, and after a quarter-century-long effort to co-manage the refuge with the FWS. And who better to do it than the original inhabitants of the land who depended on the buffalo for centuries?  That was our mainstay,” says Fyant. 

Back in December, a bipartisan bill was created that would transfer the lands back to the Indigenous peoples but as the year came to a close with no decision, many thought the plan would die out. Instead, the bill was attached to a Covid-19 relief package that had to pass. 

After a century of work, it felt sudden, said Morigeau, a tribal member and attorney for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and a Montana state legislator. “It happened so fast, it just really hasn’t sunk in,” reports High Country News

Back in 1971, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes went to court to claim back their land the U.S. took in the early 1900s and had won but it was then declared illegal to take back their lands so it was an unsuccessful battle. Since then they had not stopped fighting to reclaim their lands.

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