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Watch Now: Cherokee Nation brings in Yellowstone bison to boost herd genetics
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Watch Now: Cherokee Nation brings in Yellowstone bison to boost herd genetics

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Two young bison bulls from Yellowstone National Park joined the Cherokee Nation’s herd in Delaware County this week.

They are expected to help bring the herd one step closer to supporting sustained production of bison steaks and burgers for Cherokee elders.

Awarded to the Cherokee operation through a partnership with the InterTribal Buffalo Council, headquartered in Rapid City, South Dakota, the bison are intended to boost genetic diversity and productivity of the herd, according to Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief Bryan Warner.

“It’s something Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and I talked about at the beginning of our term,” he said. “There were some things we wanted to change, and part of that is getting more genetic diversity in the herd.”

He emphasized that the 180 bison that roam 1,000 acres near Kenwood are healthy but that, not unlike other livestock operations, good bison genetics can build a more robust herd that grows faster.

“It’s nothing that would look wrong to a layman,” he said.

An example is that someone who knows about bison might look at a cow in the herd and think it looks like a 1½- or 2-year-old, but it’s actually a 3-year-old.

“A lot of that has to do with genetics,” he said.

The Cherokee Nation continues to work with the council, which awards surplus bison from national parks each year to its member tribes, and hopes to obtain another 25 or 30 cows, he said.

A goal for the herd, established in 2014, is to increase its number to a sustainable 500 that would produce an annual surplus for slaughter that could, among other possibilities, provide meals for Cherokee elders.

“That is our goal, and I hope I get to see that happen before my term is up,” Warner said. “It’s one of those things most treasured by our elders, and we want to try to provide that if we can. … I would like to see that farm-to-table kind of thing.”

The two young bulls, each between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds, were trucked over 1,000 miles from Yellowstone National Park to Delaware County this week.

Both animals managed the stress of the trip well, Warner said. They were at first held separately from the others in the herd to be slowly introduced into the population.

The two bulls will put on hundreds more pounds each to reach their massive 2,000-pound adult size, and in the meantime they will find their place in the hierarchy among other bulls and eventually reproduce naturally among the herd, he said.

As decendants of the buffalo that once roamed free more than 100 years ago, the new genetics bring a lineage to the herd welcomed in more ways than one, he said.

“Yellowstone buffalo are significant to tribes because they descend from the buffalo that our ancient ancestors actually lived among, and this is just one more way we can keep our culture and heritage and history alive.”

“This partnership with the InterTribal Buffalo Council continues to benefit the Cherokee Nation by allowing the tribe to grow a healthy bison population over the last five years,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a press statement.

“Historically, bison provided an essential food source for tribes. Every part of the bison was used for food, clothing, shelter, tools and ceremonial purposes. These newly acquired bison will help revive some ancient cultural traditions, as well as provide expanded economic opportunities for future generations of Cherokees.”

Although bison are associated more with the Great Plains tribes, woodland bison once roamed the Cherokee Nation and all along the Atlantic Coast. Prior to European colonization, the animals played a critical role for the Cherokee people as a vital food source.

After European colonization, bison were mostly wiped out from the eastern and southeastern parts of present-day United States.

Kelly Bostian 918-581-8357

kelly.bostian@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @KellyBostian

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