Viewpoint: Stop buffalo genocide and a repeat of history
Sixty million wild, migratory buffalo once wandered freely across the North American continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.
Many are unfamiliar with the immense collective violence visited upon wild buffalo under the doctrine of Christian discovery and Manifest Destiny, as first imagined and articulated by Pope Alexander VI in his papal bull (Inter Caetera) of 1493 to the ‘royal’ Christian ruling families of Portugal and Spain.
In the 19th century the United States government violently supported the systematic extermination of buffalo with deliberate genocidal intent to remove Indian peoples’ food source, or in other words, eliminate their means of survival. From a buffalo’s perspective genocide is an apt description.
By the 1890s buffalo had been slaughtered to near extinction, their heads and hides sold at market, their bones ground into fertilizer. When the gun smoke cleared, only 23 wild, migratory buffalo avoided extirpation by finding peace and seclusion in Yellowstone’s Pelican Valley.
Today, two wild sub-populations roam the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the Central herd (descendants of the remnant 23) and the Northern herd.
Both herds are being hunted and harassed mercilessly as they seek food in Montana when deep snow in Yellowstone National Park drives them North to Beattie Gulch near Gardiner, and West to the Hebgen Basin near West Yellowstone.
Yellowstone is mostly high country, primarily summer range for large grazers like buffalo. Access to their historic winter range is critical to their survival.
The violence inflicted upon this unique buffalo population destroys their physical, social, and mental health and represents nothing less than buffalo genocide.
Last winter, well over 1,000 bison were massacred (shot with high-powered rifles) outside Yellowstone National Park’s boundary with Montana by state-licensed killers and killers from Indian nations claiming 19th-century treaty rights.
By the spring of 2023, 27% (>1,550) of Yellowstone’s total buffalo population had been removed from their homeland, shot, or relocated. 282 live “surplus bison” were relocated onto reservations under the Bison Conservation Transfer Program, a state-federal cooperative.
No surplus wild Yellowstone bison exist.
Domination is the paradigm of western nation states and Christendom. The action of domination leads to a justification of categorical subordination, the justification for moral inequality between two groups, one over the other.
Colonial dominion over buffalo persists not simply as an historical right, but an ongoing, contemporary right to conquer in the present.
The metaphorical belief in superiority isn’t based on the U.S. Constitution but the idealized cognitive image of the colonial conqueror seizing and domesticating a promised land for a chosen people.
This colonizing adventure against wild Yellowstone buffalo has entered a new dimension without due consideration of the potential for buffalo genocide, possible extinction and/or human loss of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Beattie Gulch has become Montana’s killing fields. Emergency action – a permanent cease-fire – is warranted to protect Yellowstone’s wild, free-roaming buffalo and restore public safety.
Systematic, state-sponsored barbarity isn't a glitch, it's a feature. The whole bloody mess strikes a devastating blow to any kind of morality.
It’s time to end this potentially deadly risk to Yellowstone’s wild buffalo, Gardiner residents, visitors, recreationalists, and ‘hunters.’
The so-called ‘hunt’ on federal public lands managed by the Custer Gallatin National Forest, USFS-USDA is a genocidal program which must cease. Please contact Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson at mary.Erickson@usda.gov.
Stop buffalo genocide. Close Beattie Gulch to all shooting now.
Steve Kelly is an artist, gardener and environmental activist who lives in Bozeman, Montana.