Reestablishing Native Bison on Native Lands

Final report for FNC97-001

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1997: $4,923.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Description of operation:

We have 112 acres of Indian Trust Land and Taken Area combined on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Central South Dakota, adjacent to the the Missouri River with Oak Creek running thru it. We have good grass/grazing area with 21.5 acres of potential alfalfa field.


Problem: Loss of Individual Trust Land bases due to flooding of the Missouri River and its tributaries, loss of owner control of Trust Lands, loss of fences due to mismanagement and neglect over the years.

The problems we are addressing in our pilot project are important because:

Buffalo are the only animal/food source that can survive and quite probably flourish in what we have left of our creek bottom. They are the only resource we have which is suitable and adaptable in this environment.

Our project is important to others in our area beause it's an example of what can be accomplished by cooperative efforts. 


Objective: Regain control of Trust Lands by individuals, rather than government entities. Replace fences lost by flooding of Taken Area. Utilization of grass/grazing resources below 1620 mark. Re-establish native Bison on Indian Lands.


Project Background
My grandfather was awarded an allotment of 160 acres approximately in the 1930’s. Since his departure from this world in 1944, our allotment has been in various lease programs. We lost 80 acres to the Army Corp of Engineers, in the late 1950’s – 1960’s with the flooding of the Oahe and the construction of the dam near Pierre. Many of those acres were still grazable. They had not been utilized in nearly 50 years.

Our land allotment had been in the Bureau of Indian Affairs Land Lease program for the past 15 years on 5 year lease contracts which paid approximately 175.00 per year, I saw more potential. So I went before the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Economics Committee and regained control of the 80 acres in the “taken area.” I spoke with Julie Peterson from Corp of Engineers and got their permission as well. The last BIA lease contract expires October 31, 1998. Now, we are free to replace the fences.


Project Objectives:

Project goals:

  • Re-establish native Bison on native lands.
  • Regain control of our lands.
  • Do our part to make a difference with welfare reform.
  • To reach out to others in our community. To inform them of sustainable agriculture research and education.
  • To make a difference for ourselves, and our children’s future.


Materials and methods:

We will interlink with other Bison Cooperatives to establish a pilot project consisting of a small Buffalo herd, 5 cows and 1 bull on 112 acres of good grazing land, utilizing what we can of excess Corp of Engineer managed "Taken Area," as agreed by Tribal Governing Body and U. S. Army Corp of Engineers.

We Purpose:

To re-establish fencing to adequately hold our herds and to keep neighboring cattle out of our alfalfa field. To drill in and re-seed alfalfa field as supplemental winter feed source. We would use grant funds, purchasing equipment and material necessary. 

Planning – needed a corral capable of holding bison and fencing capable of holding bison. Needed to re-establish land base, operating capital and to form a cooperative.

- Contacted Linda Huglan USDA Tribal Liason. She came across with Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.
- Steve Defender: Tribal Resources Director Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, provided insight.
- We attended workshops, Rangeland Management with Wayne Burleson being the Rangeland Management Specialist from Absarokee, Montana
- Attended a workshop titled Dakota Bison Management workshop put on by Sitting Bull College of Fort Yates, ND

Research results and discussion:

We are no longer in BIA Lease Program; we can continue to fence in the spring. We formed the 7th Generation Bison Cooperative, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe donated 20 head of buffalo for seed with payment in kind to begin after the 3rd year. This summer there where 14 calves born out of 16 cows.

Malinda and I ran 6 head of Charolais X fall steers here this past summer after we had fences in enough to sustain them for 6 months. We built a guard rail/rail road tie corral 100 feet across capable of holding/working buffalo. My brother-in-law works buffalo for a local producer, so he has inside first-hand knowledge, with buffalo. We hired him to be our foreman and help design and construct our corral and fencing system. So, with his help and other local Native American/Indian fence builders and laborers we went to work and constructed what is now FNC97-001.

We learned there is an awful lot involved in accounting and bookkeeping so Malinda enrolled in United Tribes Technology College in Bismark ND and is maintaining a 3.3 grade average in accounting and computer concepts.

I learned that if I deposited the 75% of the contract moneys in a certificate of deposit $3,692, we could use it for operating capital we could borrow $3,300 against it plus 3,692 would pay 5.5% interest. The loan would cost us 7.5% interest. Making ourselves a 2% interest loan, which we did. We purchased the 6 head of steers ran them on our grass for 6 months and realized a positive cash flow of $1,361.36 less fees, hay, hauling, vet bills, sales barn costs etc. We still realized a +400 dollars that in itself is better than the 175.00 BIA Lease maybe next spring we could buy some buffalo heifers.

If asked, estimated impact:
I can only say that, in my estimation the impact that the 7th Generation Bison Cooperative will/could have on the Standing Rock Reservation from an economic, environmental and social, point of view – my answer would be phenomenal.

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Other educational activities

Participation Summary:

3 Farmers participated
3 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

We had a group of non believers over one evening to discuss the possibilities of forming a cooperative. Nothing came of it. It was a waste of time and effort, to try to discuss anything positive with the people of our district. The negativity is so imbedded in them I see very little hope for them to make a difference for themselves of their children.

When I approached neighboring ranchers with the possibility of forming a bison cooperative I was told that “the first one that crossed my fences onto his lease would be shot.” I’m sorry he feels this way because if things go as I hope they will, we will have that lease also in 2003 and we will be running buffalo on it!

Learning Outcomes

Lessons Learned:

A final note. That DE97-001 is far from complete. In lakota the words are (Ikcha, wichasha He macha.) (I am just a common man.) I can't change everything over night or in a few months. I believe that the power of example speaks for itself. And that if you try, you can succeed. And that if you don't try, you certainly won't make a difference to your People, your Land or yourself. This year our pastrues look much better. Next year it will be much easier to restock them.

Project Outcomes

1 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant received that built upon this project
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.