Just over 140 years ago, a man named Samuel Walking Coyote did something that arguably changed the course of history: he captured and raised several bison calves in Montana.
It might not sound like much, but that move may have helped save the species from being wiped out completely. You see, in the late 1800s, bison that were once plentiful, were being hunted to the brink of extinction south of the border. When these calves in Montana were captured, however, they suffered a different fate: the animals were sold to two men named Charles Allard and Michel Pablo. Those men would go on to form the Pablo-Allard herd, which, by the early 1900s, was believed to contain the largest collection of bison in the entire U.S.
Allard and Pablo eventually offered to sell the herd to the U.S. government. But when it declined, Canada stepped in and bought the animals instead. Soon, they were on their way to Elk Island, Alta. where their numbers grew as a result of various conservation programs.
Now, more than 140 years later, the bison will be returning to the area from which they originally came.
“In the beginning, these animals were our economy,” Ervin Carlson, the buffalo project manager with the Blackfeet tribe, said. “They were our food, our clothing, our shelter. They were our tools, that’s what we lived on.”
The bison that were taken all those years ago originally belonged to the Blackfeet tribe, who relied on them to sustain their way of life. The shipment of the animals back to Montana is the result of a 2014 treaty among tribes that aims to restore bison populations to areas like the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains.
But what makes this herd extra special isn’t just the history. Most of the bison that remain today are part of commercial herds and are often interbred with cattle. The ones at Elk Island, however, are genetically pure, healthy and disease free. Meaning the Blackfeet tribe will be receiving exactly what it lost more than a century ago.
“Ceremonies have been on for several days,” said Keith Aune, bison program director of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “The tribes are just ecstatic.”
To put it simply, Canada stepped in to save an animal that was being wiped out in the U.S. Now that the dust has settled and conservation efforts are underway, we are returning them to their rightful owners.
Because, after all, that’s the Canadian thing to do.