Bison Return to Cankdeska Cikana College

Feb 15th, 2001 | By | Category: 12-3: How to Build a Dream, Tribal College News
By Melinda Martin

Dakota people on the Spirit Lake Reservation once again are turning to the bison for food, spiritual sustenance, and artistic materials. Photo by Lee Marmon

Thanks to the Small Farmer Outreach Training and Technical Assistance Project, bison are making their resurgence on the Spirit Lake Nation Indian Reservation in North Dakota. In November, 1999, management of the bison herd was handed over to Cankdeska Cikana Community College (CCCC).

Vast herds of bison once covered the Great Plains. Early explorers report herds numbering from 10,000 to 100,000 in one area. The roaring of the bulls sounded like the continuous roll of a hundred drums and could be heard for miles. Natural losses to blizzards, drowning, drought, and wolves were great, but trappers, hunters, and settlers were the greatest cause of extermination. At one time the bison was the sole source of life to the Indians of the Great Plains, supplying meat, shelter, entertainment, and spiritual strength. By the mid-1800s the number of bison had shrunk to almost extinction. Several individuals had the foresight to take action to keep the bison population from being wiped from existence. Today there are over 250,000 bison in North America and approximately 23,000 in North Dakota, including those on reservations in the state.

With the assistance of the InterTribal Bison Cooperative based out of Rapid City, S.D., the tribal college has established detailed management and marketing plans. The marketing plan includes harvesting all bulls two years old and older that will not be used as breeding stock. This will not only produce a significant amount of meat but also a substantial supply of bison by-products. All by-products will be offered to artisans on the Spirit Lake Nation.

Once the herd is self sufficient, local ranchers may be able to acquire bison calves to start their own herds. Participants in the program would be required to meet certain requirements, including taking animal science classes at CCCC, to make sure they have the knowledge and skills to raise bison. For more information contact Melinda Martin at Cankdeska Cikana Community College, Fort Totten, N.D., at 701/ 766-1385 or e-mail at

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