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bringing back the buffalo

Everything is energy. Everything moves in a circle. There are no endings only new beginnings.

Everything is energy. Everything moves in a circle. There are no endings only new beginnings. These are the foundational truths expressed in the ceremonial lives of my people. As I’ve aged, each of them has become more pronounced in my life and each of them has become more and more valuable to the condition of my life.

The teachings and the belief system of my people has become a song I carry. I feel it most strongly on the land but it’s there nonetheless in everything I do. I am Ojibwa. I am First Nation, aboriginal, native, indigenous. In all things, the truth of me and the truth and veracity of those traditional teachings are the guiding force in my life.

So it’s fascinating to see those foundational truths expressed in the world around us. Sometimes, no matter what faith you carry, our brains require tangibles, the proof that our efforts at consciousness and spirituality bear fruit in the real world. For native people, there is none more satisfying than the seeming proliferation of buffalo in Grasslands National Park.

There in the remote southwestern corner of Saskatchewan, a herd of plains bison is bearing calves at an accelerated rate. Three years ago 72 pure-blooded animals were released into the 181-square-kilometer refuge. It was a Parks Canada initiative aimed at reestablishing the presence of bison there after more than 120 years. Today there are 115 of them. While that may not seem like a lot, it is in terms of environmental impact.

See, after bison were wiped out on the plains the topography changed. Without the pummeling of buffalo hooves the rhythm, the energy, of the grasslands was altered. Not only was the mainstay of aboriginal cultures destroyed, and in turn the lives of the people, but the very heart of the prairies was eliminated too. They were murdered. That’s the salient fact deleted from our history books.

Nonetheless, the bison are back. The tremendous thing about that is that these are pure-bloods. Although there are over 400,000 buffalo in North America, they are mixed blood stock, their bloodlines crossed with domestic cattle. Beefalo they’re called. Those creatures have never seen an open prairie. They’ve never known the freedom of just being a bison.

The original 75 came from Elk Island National Park near Edmonton. They were allowed to acclimatize, a western word that means, simply, to feel the wind on your face, before being turned out into the natural world. Becoming a buffalo, as in all things, took time. They hung together at first, timid and wary, but when you’re allowed to be who you were created to be, the power of that alters you quickly.

Soon the bulls were wintering together. The cows and calves gathered in their own herd. They began to explore their territory. They began to learn themselves. Soon they found the buffalo wallows, those places where the animals would roll and cover themselves in dust to shield themselves from insects. They began to mate.

Initially, scientists anticipated a traditional birth rate of 60 calves for every hundred cows. Last year that rate climbed to 90. This year they expect another forty youngsters to arrive. What that projects to within the next five years is 300 to 350 pure-blooded bison roaming a territory in which they were extinct for over a century.

Everything is energy. Everything moves in a circle. There are no endings only new beginnings, only continuation, only the great onward motion of the planet seeking the highest possible expression of itself. This is what we witness when we care to look. This is what we engender when we care to care.

See, bringing back the buffalo brought back the spirit of the grasslands. That grass is being grazed. It ranges from the barely nibbled to virtually cultivated lengths like golf club greens. That in turn stimulates other beings. Songbirds are lining their nests with bison fur, boosting the probability of successful nesting. The sharp-tailed grouse has been dusting itself in the wallows and using the short green lawns for mating areas.

Soon, scientists expect endangered and struggling bird species to follow suit. The sage grouse, Sprague’s pipit, the long-billed curlew and the burrowing owl could all soon call Grasslands National Park home and begin their own proliferation. Naturally, predator life will increase as will other species prone to a grasslands life. Certainly, the herd needs to grow some to become viable and more research is called for but the initial impact is awesome to see.

Because we are stewards of the planet. We are the creatures of the higher order and it is our responsibility to take care of things. When we bring our energy into the flow of planetary energy there are no endings, only new beginnings. All it takes is desire.

Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels and his new novel, Ragged Company, arrives in August from Doubleday. He can be reached at