Cheyenne River Developing Bison Courses

Nov 15th, 1998 | By | Category: 10-2: Assessing Student Learning in a Cultural Environment, Tribal College News

Bison represent a growing industry as well as a part of Lakota theology. Photo by John Philips

Fifty people attended last summer’s Tatanka Institute, which is part of Cheyenne River Community College’s animal and range science programs. The participants—double the number who attended last year’s institute—were able to view their subject matter, bison, close up since the tribe has a herd of approximately 1,000 bison. The college wants to start its own herd, according to Warren Fritz, research assistant at the institute.

Jim Garrett, a Cheyenne River Lakota tribal member, has headed the institute since 1996. He and Fritz are developing curriculum for the college and the institute thanks to several different grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and South Dakota State University. Most of the summer institute participants were Indian students from Black Hills State University, as well as people from a non-violent alternative project in Connecticut, and some members of the Northern Plains Bison Education Project. Many of the participants had never seen bison before and considered them endangered. They did not realize that bison represent a growing industry. After losing cattle to recent hard winters, local ranchers are looking for something hardier, especially with the current poor beef market. A heifer bison calf can sell for $1,500-$2,000, more than twice the price for a steer calf.

The 10 tribal colleges involved in the Northern Plains Bison Education Project are developing curriculum that will include courses such as range management, prairie ecology, animal science, and conservation of habitat, all with a cultural foundation. Over time they hope to add electives such as tatanka cosmology, tatanka theology, and bison and art. “It will take time because nothing like it has ever been done before,” said Garrett. “Only Western research is available.” The colleges want to take a Western science model and the indigenous model and make a whole new body of knowledge, he said. The Cheyenne River bison management classes are geared toward the college’s efforts to become fully accredited.

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