FORT BELKNAP — There is plenty of open range for animals to roam and graze just outside of Box Elder.
Now, there is a familiar animal somewhere out there on the plains where people have wanted it for years.
The Chippewa Cree tribe celebrated one of their most important days in recent history on Tuesday, with the return of 11 bison to their tribe.
It’s been almost 30 years since they had bison on their land, but the animals are making their way home here outside of Box Elder.
The bison are a big part of the Chippewa Cree tribe, and tribe officials have been working for years to bring the animals back.
Once there were countless bison on their land, and for years there were none.
Now that work has been turned into reality as Box Elder and Rocky Boy came together to witness the return of the animal back to their communities.
Buffalo Board vice-chairman Tim Rosette Jr said having the bison back on their land means everything to the tribe and that there has been a lot of hard work put in over the last few years making this happen between forming the board itself and applying to different places who could provide the animals.
“You know this is really big for us as a community. This is our way of life. The buffalo means so much to us and our traditional ways, our everyday life and now having them here and now having them here, it’s truly a blessing,” Rosette Jr. said.
Rosette Jr. says a big part of getting bison back to the tribe’s land was forming the Buffalo Board and now, their work has paid off in a big way for the tribe, as whole communities came together to dance and celebrate a historic day for the tribe.
Tribe sustainability coordinator Jason Belcourt said he was overwhelmed watching the bison run out onto the land and that this day was a long time coming for all Chippewa Cree people.
“It’s not me bringing this buffalo home or the board bringing the buffalo home, the buffalo are coming home on their own and it’s going throughout Indian country, not just Rocky Boy, it’s all over Indian country,” Belcourt said.
"The buffalo are finding a way to find their way home. And when the buffalo thrive, we’re going to thrive. This buffalo has been missing like a piece of us has been missing for so long and he’s here now. The piece has filled in so from there, we’ll grow," Belcourt continued.
The bison have about 1,200 acres to roam on and although there aren’t thousands like there used to be, the bison being back on the land is important to the entire tribe.
Chippewa Cree member Dustin Whitford — who participated in the day’s ceremonies — said it allowed him to remember his ancestors and what the day means for the tribe.
“They had invited me down just to come and dance and I accepted and was glad to do so and I was just glad to be part of the event,” Whitford said. This event wasn’t done for one person, and it wasn’t done just for us that attended here today, it wasn’t done just for the people that are alive today, it was done to honor our ancestors who fought so hard for us to be here. I had to be here, I had to be a part of it.”
Tribe officials say they are honored and blessed to have bison back on their land. There will be 11 bison in total once again roaming the land of the Chippewa Cree.