Kellogg Grant Supports Bison Network

Aug 15th, 1999 | By | Category: 10-4: Native Arts Education, Tribal College News

Louis LaRose: "There's a big gulf in people's views about bison." Photo © by Lee Marmon, American Indian College Fund

Oglala Lakota College offers a unique course that is best taught in the prairie, Tatanka Management—Bison Management. Instructor Trudy Ecoffey said some of its textbooks are not written but oral-traditional stories told by tribal elders. The college on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota is part of the Northern Plains Bison Education Network–a group of 10 tribal colleges collaborating to develop bison courses on Indian reservations. These schools are located mostly on rural reservations on the upper Great Plains, a wide area once inhabited by millions of bison (or, commonly, buffalo).

Louis LaRose, a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, directs the network. “We believe we can help give Indian people all the cultural and academic tools to make bison restoration successful on Indian reservations,” he said. LaRose himself has used bison to help young, at-risk boys build self-esteem. Each tribal college in the network is developing curriculum–including courses in agriculture, range management, prairie restoration, and nutrition–which the network’s schools will share, LaRose said. One day, the colleges hope to lead national bison research efforts in such areas as ecology and brucellosis, the controversial disease associated with bison at Yellowstone National Park. The effort is funded by a four-year, $650,000 grant by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as part of the foundation’s Native American Higher Education Initiative.

“There’s a big gulf in people’s views about bison,” said LaRose. “There’s a difference between producing bison for spiritual and cultural needs of a tribe and producing bison for a commercial market. The commercial production of buffalo is a hard sell in Indian Country.” Given the poor economic conditions on Indian reservations, however, LaRose acknowledged that most tribes want some commercial production. The key, he said, is what kind. Most tribes, for example, favor free-range grazing over feedlots, which are considered restrictive. Developing trained bison managers could be a major responsibility of tribal colleges. “The authorities want to define buffalo as livestock, but that’s like calling an Indian a ‘white man.’ It just doesn’t compute,” LaRose said.

“The colleges hold many keys to the equation,” he said. “First, they are culturally-based institutions. They bring together culture, academics, and science. As Indian people, we believe the best way to solve any challenge is a comprehensive approach.” For more information about the Northern Plains Bison Education Network, call United Tribes Technical College (701) 255-3285 Ext. 266 or see the network’s website at

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