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For the first time in decades, buffalo will once again roam the Rocky Boy's Reservation

 Ken Morsette, Shorty Luna and Junior Morsette build fence for the coming of the buffalo to the Rocky Boy's Reservation.
Jason Belcourt
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Ken Morsette, Shorty Luna and Junior Morsette build fence for the coming of the buffalo to the Rocky Boy's Reservation.

The Rocky Boy's Reservation in north-central Montana is welcoming the buffalo back this week for the first time in decades.

The Chippewa Cree Tribe will hold a welcoming ceremony Tuesday for the 11 buffalo returning to the Rocky Boy's Reservation.

Six of the buffalo are from south of Malta at the American Prairie Reserve. The other five were gifted from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes' buffalo program on the Flathead Reservation.

Jason Belcourt is the sustainability director on Rocky Boy's and has spearheaded the project for the last two years. He says the tribe wanted to start out with a small herd and watch it slowly grow throughout the years.

“The biggest misstep — I'll say sin — humanity has made for this Turtle Island was devastating the bison herd," Belcourt said.

"There were 40 to 60 million buffalo running around here living on the landscape. So that's always been on the back of my mind. Then we replaced them with cattle. And as Chippewa Cree people, we have certain ceremonies that we all hold in high regard.”

The last time buffalo were on the Rocky Boy's Reservation was in the early '90s. The new additions will be released onto 1,200 acres of land after a pipe ceremony.

Belcourt says the buffalo will be a major player in the tribe's efforts to be more food secure.

“We talked about food sovereignty, and we talked about healthy foods, and knowing where our foods come from and the health benefits," he said. "Our communities, like a lot of Native communities, are plagued with diabetes and different health issues that are directly related to our diet."

Last week, a bipartisan bill was introduced to the U.S. Senate to establish a buffalo management program inside the U.S. Department of the Interior. The program is proposed to help tribes all over the country manage and protect buffalo habitat, as well as include tribes in more discussion about buffalo management on the federal level.
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