Indigenous peoples from Canada and the United States gather in Saskatoon to sign a treaty to restore the bison


On Friday, Indigenous peoples from both sides of the Canada-US border gathered at Wanuskewin Heritage Park in Saskatoon to witness the signing of the bison treaty.

The treaty’s first signatories – members of different nations across North America – stamped their names on the document in 2014 at the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, with the goal of allowing the free movement of animals across the international border and restore spiritual and cultural ties between bison and Indigenous peoples.

“The bison treaty is about bringing that bison back,” said Leroy Little Bear, a fellow at the International Buffalo Relations Institute and one of the key forces behind the treaty.

“The buffalo is [a] very important part of our lives, our culture, etc. The bison is… linked to us through our songs, our stories, our ceremonies. »

Leroy Little Bear spoke at the treaty signing ceremony. He says the treaty is an agreement between sovereign nations to work together on bison restoration and conservation practice. (Therese Kliem/CBC)

Representatives of tribal chiefs from the Battlefords Agency and Nekaneet First Nation in Saskatchewan, as well as the Louis Bull Tribe in Alberta, joined the treaty as new signatories on Friday.

Witnesses, supporters and other partners also signed the agreement, including Wanuskewin Heritage Park, which reaffirmed its commitment to the treaty. The park is home to a herd of 24 bison.

The bison were returned to the park in 2019 after years of efforts to bring the bison back to the site.

Stoney Knoll First Nation Chief and Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs Representative Sylvia Weenie is happy to see this.

“Bringing the bison back and revitalizing the knowledge between the bison and the connection to our culture and our children, I think is a very good positive step for my grandchildren – my future grandchildren as well,” he said. she stated.

“That’s one of the things I would really like to see all of our nations participate in. [in].”

The seven member First Nations of the Battlefords agency will host a bison treaty signing event in August at Sweetgrass First Nation, she said.

A bison calf and its mother stand in a field.
The bison were returned to Wanuskewin Heritage Park in 2019. Six more bison were born in the park this year. (Submitted by Wanuskewin Heritage Park)

As the pandemic has slowed the process of communities joining the accord, more First Nations are coming together again to sign the treaty, said Little Bear, who is a member of the Kainai tribe of the Blackfoot Confederacy. in Alberta.

“Our brother, the buffalo, is an eco-engineer – he brings ecological balances to the earth,” he said.

“Wherever we can see bison roaming freely as they once were…we are moving forward with our aims and objectives.”

Decline of bison

Bison numbered in the tens of millions in North America before colonization. In 1890, there were less than a thousand bison left on the continent, according to Parks Canada.

The 2014 treaty to restore bison to the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains regions marked the first such agreement between Alberta First Nations and Montana tribes in a series of agreements governing hunting rights in the 1800s.

Prior to European contact, it was common for Indigenous peoples of different nations to make agreements for various reasons, Little Bear explained.

Chief Sylvia Weenie of the Stoney Knoll First Nation was one of the new bison treaty signatories on Friday, representing the Battlefords Agency tribal chiefs. (Therese Kliem/CBC)

The first eight signatories to the Bison Treaty in 2014 were Blackfeet Nation, Kainai/Blood Tribe, Siksika Nation, Piikani Nation, Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes of Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, the Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Salish and Kootenai Confederate Indian Reservation and Tsuut’ina Nation.

Since then, more than 30 signatories have joined the treaty, Little Bear said.

Chief Daryl Watson of Mistawasis Nêhiyawak in Saskatchewan was one of the people who witnessed the signing of the document on Friday.

His community, about 70 kilometers west of Prince Albert, became a signatory in 2017.

“It’s truly uplifting to recognize and see that so many of our First Nations families and friends are actively participating or considering being part of…the bison revival in their traditional territories,” he said.

“We have to find a different way to put the bison back in their original habitat, in their own environment. And that’s a challenge we face today.”

The intention of the treaty is to “recognize the buffalo as a free-ranging wild animal and as an important part of the ecological system”. (Therese Kliem/CBC)

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