Jaedin Medicine Elk and Stephany Seay

As the debate rages over the killing of 1,100 Yellowstone National Park bison by tribal hunters this year there’s plenty of finger-pointing and blame-casting to go around. But the bottom line is that the buffalo are the true victims here.

Unfortunately, way too much human-centric drama is being played out in the name of “rights” and “sovereignty” and “management,” by tribal nations, organizations, and individuals. What’s missing is attention to what the buffalo actually need, how that can be achieved, or the very real ecological impacts of the current mismanagement taking place.

There is no doubt that Montana’s livestock industry’s intolerance of wild buffalo is at the core of the centuries-old tragedy that is still taking place. No one argues that. And if you don’t think historic tribal treaties are being manipulated to facilitate the destruction of the last wild buffalo, think again.

Make no mistake, these days the Montana Department of Livestock is sitting back enjoying the spectacle of watching what should be natural allies – tribal nations and bison conservationists -- attacking each other while one-third of Yellowstone’s buffalo are killed. It’s all playing out in their favor, having tribal hunters do the agency’s dirty work of keeping America’s National Mammal penned up within the borders of Yellowstone National Park.

But if you pull the trigger, do you get to blame someone else for making you do it? No, you do not.

No one is “forcing” either state or treaty hunters to participate in this sham of a “hunt.”

No one is holding a gun to anyone’s head and making them kill entire family groups, pregnant females heavy with calves.

No one is forcing anyone to shoot at running buffalo, blowing off their jaws and legs.

No one is forcing anyone to participate in the very thing that is preventing restoration of the last wild buffalo.

These are choices individuals make for themselves and they must take responsibility for their own actions. No one is “scapegoating” the tribal hunters who were responsible for three-fourths of the bison killed this year and one-fifth of all the Park’s bison that still exist.

The question is, what are we going to do about it? Is it right and just to serve the livestock industry and kill as many buffalo as you can because you have a “treaty right” to do it? Why not refuse to participate, instead?

Why not work to end the evil reign the Montana Department of Livestock holds over bison and demand that native, wild buffalo have an inherent right to roam freely throughout the lands that are their birthright, just like the elk, deer, antelope and other native wildlife on this landscape?

The Montana Stockgrowers Association called buffalo advocates “selfish.” How absurd is that when it’s the livestock industry that wages the largest war against wildlife and wildlands? The livestock industry cuts up the land, kills the wildlife, fences it off, and cries “mine! mine! mine!” Yet accuses bison advocates of being the selfish ones.

The simple truth is that it was ranchers who brought brucellosis to North America with their cattle and infected the native bison with the disease. Now, they say bison cannot live as free-roaming wildlife because they might spread brucellosis to cattle – despite the fact that not one incident of bison-to-cattle disease transmission has ever happened in the wild, not one.

What settlers did to the Buffalo Nation, they did to all Nations on Turtle Island: massacred/slaughtered our people and wildlife, harmed the land, polluted the waters, choked the skies. Today they are still using the same tools/manipulation to kill the buffalo and control them on the land that is their birthright. The only difference now is that the State of Montana and their livestock industry uses us natives to help kill and control these wild buffalo.

Yet, after killing one-fifth of Yellowstone’s bison, Montana Governor Gianforte is now threatening to sue the Park if it doesn’t drive the last wild population down to 3,000 individuals. This despite the fact that the federal managers have publicly stated the park can sustainably maintain upwards of 11,000 buffalo.

Why would anyone ever want to play into their hands rather than stand up against their madness? We are all living on this Earth at this point in time with all the horrific things being done to land, water, and wildlife.

The most important action any human who cares about wild buffalo, their recovery and evolutionary potential can do right now is comment to the US Fish & Wildlife Service in support of Endangered Species Act listing for the nation’s last survivors of the wild herds that once thundered the Great Plains by the tens of millions. Comments are being accepted through June 4, 2023. Without this protection, there will be no end in sight to this continuing tragedy.

Jaedin Medicine Elk and Stephany Seay are co-founders of the Montana-based Roam Free Nation. Jaedin is Northern Cheyenne, a Sundancer and Sacred Pipe Carrier from a traditional Buffalo Culture family. Stephany has been in service to the last wild buffalo for over twenty years. Learn more at RoamFreeNation.org.