American Bison and American Indian Nations

The American bison is the most significant animal to many American Indian nations, indivisible from their histories, cultures, religions and ways of life.

Critical to their survival, bison not only provided American Indians with food, shelter and tools, but a model on how to live. To American Indians, bison also represent their spirit and remind them of how their lives were once lived, free and in harmony with nature.

From beard to the tail, American Indian nations used every part of the bison. Because the bison provided many gifts—from tipis and clothing made from hides to soap from fat and tools made from bones—they were honored as relatives and paid tribute to through songs, dance and prayers.

Horns

Arrow Points
Cups
Fire Carrier
Headdresses
Ladles
Medication
Ormaments
Powderhorn
Signals
Toys
Spoons

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Brains

Food
Hide Preparation
Blood

Paints
Puddings
Soups
Liver

Food
Tanning Agent
Tendons & Muscles

Arrow Ties
Bowstrings
Cinches
Sinew
Teeth

Ornaments
Necklace

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Tongue

Choice Meat
Comb
(Rough Side)
Fat

Soaps
Tallow
Tanning
Hair Grease
Filled Pipe Sealer
Cosmetic Aids
Bones

Arrowheads
Awls
Eating utensils
Fleshing Toools
Game Dice
Jewelry
Knives
Pipes
Quirts
Saddle Trees
Scrapers
Shovels
Sleds
Splints
Toys
War Clubs
Painting tools

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Foot Bones

Teething Toys
Toy Buffalo or Horse
Stomach Liner

Cooking Vessels
Water Container
Stomach Contents

Medicines
Paints
Scrotum

Containers
Rattles
Dew Claws

Glue
Rattles
Wind Chimes
Hoof Sheath

Containers
Glue
Rattles
Spoons
Wind Chimes
Gall

Yellow Paint

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Bladder

Food Pouches
Water Container
Medicine Bags

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Meat

Immediate use
Dried
Meat / Jerky
Pemmican
Sausage
Rawhide

"Par fleche"
Masks
Cinches
Ornaments
Rattles
Sheaths
Snowshoes
Trunks
Horse-water Trough
Moccasin Soles
Containers
Quivers
Ropes
Sheilds
Splints
Lariats
Buckets
Caps
Drums
Rafts
Saddles
Shrouds
Straps
Hair

Bracelets
Braided Ropes
Doll Stuffing
Hair Pieces
Headdresses
Horse Halters
Medicine Balls
Moccasin Lining
Ornaments
Pad Fillers
Pillow Fillers
Tail

Decorations
Fly Swatter
Knife Sheaths
Medicine
Switch
Whips
Game Wheel Hoop

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Tanned Hide

Backrests
Bags
Beds
Belts
Blankets
Bridles
Caps
Cradles
Doll Mittens
Dresses
Leggings
Moccasin Tops
Pillows
Pouches
Ropes
Shirts
Sweat lodge
Cover
Tapestries
Tipi Liners
Tipi Covers
Winter Robes
Mittens

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Dung

Diaper Powder
Fuel
Skull

Altar
Dehairing Tool
Sun Dance
Beard

Ornaments

In addition to the use of their physical body, American Indians modeled social behavior from observing bison, such as how to live in a healthy and productive manner. Some of the important lessons were breastfeeding offspring, valuing both young and old, being physically active, respecting both the female and the male, healthy eating and using resources wisely.

Spotlight on Current Conservation Efforts by American Indian Nations

Before 1800, American bison once roamed the Great Plains in vast numbers: estimates range from 30 to 100 million. Bison were once a major source of meat and hides in the United States. They formed the basis of the economy for a number of American Indian nations. However, by the 1890s, fewer than 1,000 of these animals remained on the continent. The U.S. Government slaughtered many bison in an effort to destroy the livelihood of Plains Indians.

In recent years, many American Indian nations that traditionally depended on bison have been engaged in efforts to bring back the “Buffalo Nation,” reestablish healthy bison populations on tribal lands, and reclaim an important part of their people’s traditional diet and way of life.

Formed in 1990, the Inter Tribal Bison Council is a significant force in this growing movement, with a membership of 56 tribes in 19 states with a collective herd of more than 15,000 bison. ITBC is committed to reestablishing bison herds on Indian lands in a manner that promotes cultural enhancement, spiritual revitalization, ecological restoration and economic development. The role of the ITBC is to act as a facilitator in coordinating education and training programs, developing marketing strategies, coordinating the transfer of surplus bison from national parks to tribal lands and providing technical assistance to its membership in developing sound management plans that will help each tribal herd become a successful and self-sufficient operation.

ITBC member nation bison conservation programs include efforts by the Fort Peck Reservation in northeast Montana, home to the Sioux divisions of Sisseton, Wahpetons, the Yanktonais and the Teton Hunkpapa as well as the Assiniboine bands of Canoe Paddler and Red Bottom. The Fort Peck Tribes Fish and Game Department maintains Turtle Mound Buffalo ranch in Montana, which currently has 200 head in the buffalo herd. Buffalo were reintroduced to this area in 1999.

The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska has been reintroducing bison to the native homelands since the Tribe was restored in 1990. With assistance from the ITBC, the Ponca Tribe now has a herd of nearly 100 animals in two pastures.

Since the early 1980s, the Southern Ute Tribe has managed a small herd of bison, primarily for cultural preservation and nutritional/dietary purposes. Currently there is a herd at approximately 30 head with a 350 acre fenced pasture near Ignacio, Colorado.

Buffalo Objects

Spoon (Horn)


Image courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution
Object: Spoon
Culture: Numakiki (Mandan)
Animal Parts: Buffalo horn

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Painting Tools (Bones)


Image courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution
Object: Paintbrush
Culture: Hunkpapa Lakota (Standing Rock)
Animal Parts: Buffalo bone

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Necklace (Teeth)


Image courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution
Object: Necklace
Culture: A:shiwi (Zuni)
Animal Parts: Buffalo hide/skin, teeth

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Mittens (Hide)


Image courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution
Object: Mittens
Culture: Dakota (Eastern Sioux)
Animal Parts: Buffalo hide/skin

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Medicine Bag (Bladder)


Image courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution
Object: Bag
Culture: Tsitsistas/Suhtai (Cheyenne)
Animal Parts: Buffalo bladder, hide leather

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Game Wheel/Hoop (Tail)


Image courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution
Object: Game wheel/hoop
Culture: Nakota (Yankton Sioux)
Animal Parts: Buffalo tail

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