BTBC CHAIR REPORT 1-27-16
by Harry Barnes
I often wonder how we as a people would look today if the Boarding School (Resident School in Canada) experience had not been a reality. Of course, we as Native people know the purpose of those government institutions. The vast majority of the white population has no understanding that these schools were designed with the goal of enculturation. That is the nice way to say “Destroy the Indian and recreate a new good citizen.”
Having gone to Cut Bank Boarding School for two years, I had no idea what was going on. I guess back then I was just a slow learner. The older boys tricked us into putting our tongue onto a frozen handrail. What more did we need to learn?
These schools were just a part of our movement away from our roots and culture. Today there are good positive remnants of that society that roamed this area for over 10,000 years, given by the Creator for us to flourish and go beyond existing. We have the land that has not disappeared to the federal government. We have an abundance of wildlife, no longer enough to sustain ourselves the way we had. We have some amazing people that hold onto our old ways and carry it forward. Not as many as we had, sadly.
If you study the history of the Jews as related in the Bible you will see they were twice taken into captivity. They could have lost their culture, but some held onto it and cared for it knowing it could return. For those who hold our old ways, Creator’s blessings on you.
The 2014 Audit has been finished and posted to the Federal Audit Clearing House website. Please go there and do a search for Blackfeet. We have made a commitment to fiscal accountability and transparency. We will now start the 2015 audit, and then we will stay current.
As I type this article I am stuck in Washington, D.C., where people have no idea or concept about travel in snow. I have been here with a contingent from Blackfeet on issues of Tribal concern. There has been much concern raised on Facebook about why the Chairman takes so many travels when we have such financial difficulties. A fair question, and if it is seen on Facebook, it must be true.
The entire cost of this trip was funded by WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society). The cost is only one part of the answer. WCS has partnered with the Blackfeet Tribe to help grow our buffalo herd. They bring scientific research and funding for our efforts. With a limited herd size, we are limited on what we can do. With 450 head we can meet cultural requests, and with buffalo meat from the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council we can distribute to elders.
How do we expand our herd size without money? It is through strategic alliances with those who have resources and believe in some of the same things we do. WCS founded the Bronx Zoo and has the first Yellowstone buffalo created by embryonic transfer. It was carried by a surrogate cow at the zoo. It is a really big bull! Their genetics is not to create a Jurassic Park, but to study ways of preserving the DNA purity of the buffalo. We are not looking for created buffalo, but natural buffalo.
We found original buffalo from Blackfeet country that were captured in the 1870’s and moved to the Salish/Kootenai reservation which became known as the Pablo/Allred herd. In 1900, because of encroachment when reservations were opened to whites, the surviving Pablo sold them to Canada as the US was not interested in saving buffalo or Indians.
Elk Island Park is just east of Edmonton, and when I heard that they must cull their herd every two years, we began the conversation. Parks Canada likes to support conservation efforts and has a genuine heart for these animals. (Some staff, of course, would prefer to send them to auction where they can fetch up to $3,000 each, program money.) They agreed to give them to the Blackfeet for $350, and Blackfeet must cover transportation.
This is where WCS came in. Through various funders the Tribe will not have to pay anything! We met and thanked some of those funders in New York, New York City Trust and Lindeen Foundation. This will be $40,000 plus in buffalo to the Blackfeet herd expansion towards sustainability.
This opportunity has opened the door to Blackfeet Buffalo Restoration becoming a Field Project with the Oakland Zoo. We will have intern opportunities at the Oakland Zoo for our college students, and exchange trips for younger students in both directions. Their animal specialists will travel to Blackfeet Country to work with our program and college, and our people will travel there. The cost will be covered by the Zoo! We are talking with the Bronx Zoo about expanding the same opportunities in New York. The gain of buffalo is a great accomplishment. The chance for our young people to be exposed to an incredible career option is even greater, not in New York or Oakland, but right here in their homeland.
In New York’s Museum of Natural History there is a fantastic display of Plains Indians. Our Blackfeet way of life is portrayed in a very credible way. Contained in their collection are objects of a sacred nature. The Museum has agree to fund a trip for the Blackfeet to start the consultation process of repatriation. They are very accommodating. We also met with staff at the Cultural Research Center of the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian for the same purpose. John and Carol Murray were there as respected elders with transferred rights and John’s role as Tribal Historic Officer.
Tyson and I met with the state delegation on the Water Compact issues as it heads to Senate Markup on Jan. 27, a major step in a very long process. We met with the National Park Service over grazing our buffalo in Glacier National Park, and we met with the US Fish and Wildlife officials to make them aware of our intent and to assure the definition of buffalo as wildlife.
It has been a dead run since we got here. A lot of meetings. Was it worth it? Absolutely! I am meetinged out. Elders say until the buffalo returns, we will drift. This trip and these buffalo will not fix everything. They are a step in the right direction. I may still be a slow learner, but the numbers add up.