HELENA - The Montana Historical Society (MHS) and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) have reached an agreement to return Big Medicine, a white bison born at the National Bison Range in 1933, to the Flathead Indian Reservation.
White bison calves are rare and considered sacred to tribes.
According to an exhibit at the MHS, Big Medicine held great significance to both Native and non-native people in Montana. Prior to his death in 1959 the Montana Historical Society arranged for him to be preserved and moved to the state museum in Helena.
CSKT Deputy Executive Officer Shane Morigeau called Thursday a historic day, saying Big Medicine "holds tremendous traditional, cultural, and historical significance to us. He’s an ongoing source of pride and his medicine represents the past that had carried forward to the present and the work yet to be done to protect our identity, culture, and well-being into the future."
"We are grateful to the MHS for hearing us and understanding his significance. We are also grateful for the support of the Montana American Indian Caucus and the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders. And although he will be on short-term loan with the MHS until we bring him back, his spirit is coming home with us today," Morigeau continued.
"The Montana Historical Society is pleased to see Big Medicine’s ownership transferred to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, as per their request, with a unanimous vote of support by our trustees," said MHS Director Molly Kruckenberg, "As part of our agreement, the MTHS will retain physical possession of Big Medicine until the Tribes have a safe environment in which he can be displayed."
MHS said in a statement the return of Big Medicine is not a repatriation under the Native American Graves Act but comes from an agreement between two governments. The CSKT are planning a celebration once they have completed the construction of a space for Big Medicine.
The agreement to return Big Medicine comes a little more than a year after the Department of the Interior completed a transfer of the National Bison Range in the Mission Valley to CSKT from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which had operated the Bison Range for decades.
***Correction 10/23/2022: an earlier version of this article had a typo that had the incorrect year that Big Medicine died***