Caption for photo: Jason Baldes of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe preparing to pick up some of 35 bison from Denver Mountain Park that were being transferred to Native American tribes near Golden, Colo., in March. Credit: David Zalubowski/Associated Press
JULY 4, 2023
By Mike Ives
More than a century after a mass bison slaughter, the animals are restoring Great Plains ecosystems and reinvigorating Indigenous customs like the sun dance.
For years, meals at the summer sun dance ceremonies on the Eastern Shoshone tribe’s lands in Wyoming were missing something that was once a staple of the sacred rituals.
There was no presence of homegrown bison, an animal central to the spiritual customs and beliefs of the Shoshone and other Native Americans.
Now, meals at the annual ceremonies, which have just begun for this summer, will feature bison meat that, for the first time in 138 years, was harvested from the tribe’s own lands. The multiday sacred ritual involves dancing, fasting and praying, often within a sweat lodge made from natural materials.
“It’s in our DNA to have that animal around us again,” said Jason Baldes, 44, a member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe who manages its herd of bison on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. “It’s kind of like bringing home your long-lost relative.”