“Buffalo, for Lakota people, are our relatives,” Goodshield Aguilar says of his tribe’s origin story. “Because if it wasn’t for the buffalo, we wouldn’t exist.” Around 30-60 million bison (often referred to as buffalo) once thundered through the Great Plains of North America. Today only 4,900 unfenced, wild plains bison remain, most of them huddled within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park.
Aguilar is a Lakota tribe member and a contributor to the Buffalo Field Campaign, an organization that believes bison “have the right to be on our land like all other wildlife,” according to co-founder Mike Mease. BFC focuses on legislation, field observation and education for and about bison, as showcased by the campaign’s traveling show coming to Eugene Oct. 5 at Cozmic.
“The last wild buffalo we have in the United States reside in Yellowstone. But when they leave the park and come into the state of Montana, there is zero tolerance,” says Mease, who has been involved with the Yellowstone bison for the last 17 years. Mease says the pressure to keep bison numbers down is from the cattle industry, and out of misplaced fear of brucellosis, a disease originally introduced by cattle to bison that causes cows to miscarry.
The free-roaming animals migrate annually to wintering grounds outside of Yellowstone, which Mease calls the “Bison Reservation.” There it has been estimated by state and park officials that 3,000-3,500 is the carrying capacity for the park’s bison, though the current population is around 4,900.
On Sept. 16, the park announced a plan to kill 900 bison this winter during their migration in order to meet the target population.
Aguilar, whose aunt Rosalie Little Thunder co-founded the organization with Mease, says that this number is yet another reminder that the buffalo need help. The BFC relies heavily on volunteers to do field work, which involves snowshoe and ski patrols to observe the herds and any interaction with Montana Department of Livestock, whether it be killing or hazing.
“These buffalo belong to all of us — they’re a national treasure,” Mease says.
The BFC Roadshow will feature music by Aguilar and Mignon Geli, who play “indigenous soul” music. Storytelling will follow, along with a movie about the last wild Yellowstone buffalos, and what BFC is doing to help them. Mease and Aguilar will be available for a question and answer period at the end.
“Stories and Songs for the Last Wild Buffalo” will be at 7 pm Sunday, Oct. 5, at Cozmic, 199 W. 8th Ave. $5 to $10 sliding scale at the door. No one turned away.