A home where the buffalo will roam
A grateful Lakota delegation receives the gift of a buffalo herd from a Rye rancher.
By JUAN ESPINOSA THE PUEBLO CHIEFTAIN Published: Sunday September 26, 2004
RYE – Early today, a truckload of buffalo began dancing their way back home to the Buffalo nation. The little herd was a gift from a Rye-area rancher to a Pine Ridge Lakota family who intends to grow the herd and give a similar gift herd to another resident of the South Dakota reservation. Before the journey began, Frank Red Cloud – a fifth-generation descendant of the 19th century Lakota Chief Red Cloud – performed a simple ceremony on a ranch owned by Puebloan surgeon Ken Danylchuk and his wife, Kathy. Ed Iron Cloud carefully picks out buffalo from the Danylchuck’s herd in Rye. On Saturday, Red Cloud talked about what he intended to say at the ceremony and stressed the significance of the gift of self-sufficiency the livestock represents to the Lakota. “We’ll smudge them (with sage smoke) and sing them a song – ‘Look grandfather! The sacred ones are dancing home’ ” said Red Cloud. He sees the buffalo, often a symbol of the past, as the future for the Lakota. “It’s the eternal dream of grandfathers and grandmothers to go back to the natural life,” Red Cloud said. “We come from the buffalo. We’re part of the Buffalo nation.” Central to the effort to rebuild the Lakota buffalo herds is Pueblo native David Bartecchi, director of the Pine Ridge Project, which includes the Adopt-A-Buffalo campaign. Bartecchi told his father, Dr. Carl Bartecchi, about the campaign to build the Lakota herds. In turn, Dr. Bartecchi told his friend and colleague Dr. Ken Danylchuk. “Ken said he was interested and Dave ran with it,” Dr. Bartecchi said at the gathering on Saturday when Red Cloud and his delegation came to receive their precious cargo. Red Cloud and the younger Bartecchi explained how the project came about. “Our approach is land management,” Bartecchi said of his Fort Collins-based nonprofit employer, Village Earth. “A lot of people (on Pine Ridge) own 200 or more acres, but they weren’t living on it,” he said. The land was part of a Bureau of Indian Affairs leasing system and was “automatically” being leased to private ranchers for low rents, Bartecchi said. A survey of reservation residents showed that 77 percent of the people wanted to live on their land and 25 percent wanted to raise buffalo. According to Red Cloud, 10 families have returned to their land and have started buffalo herds. “These people reversed (the BIA leasing) and took their land back and their using it to raise buffalo,” Red Cloud said. “It represents new hope for a new generation,” said Red Cloud, who is one of the Lakota buffalo ranchers. “This is what we understand. We know the buffalo. Combined with all that we honor – sun, wind, four directions – it’s all part of the Lakota spirituality.” Ken Danylchuk said because of the recent years of drought, he already was downsizing his buffalo herd when Dr. Bartecchi told him of the Pine Ridge project. “I told them they could have eight to 12, whatever they could get in their trailer,” Danylchuk said on Saturday. “They’re taking two 1-year-old bulls, some yearling heifers and a breeding bull.” The donor said it was hard to say what his contribution is worth. “They were selling for $2,100 a head a couple of years ago and last year you couldn’t give them away.” A native of Alberta, Can., Danylchuk said he moved to the Pueblo area in 1990 and bought five heifers from South Dakota to start his herd. He is intersted in raising buffalo for the meat’s nutritional characteristics. Perhaps the happiest man at the Danylchuk ranch on Saturday was Ed Iron Cloud, the recipient of the seed herd. He is interested in seeing that the sacred buffalo be handled properly. “We want to set a standard for raising them,” he said. “Some people are putting them in feed lots . . . that creates a lot of stress for them. “We followed the buffalo for a 1,000 years . . . 50 million buffalo, 50 million people, down to 2 million now.” Iron Cloud praised the intelligence of the buffalo, which he said have taught the Lakota that there is a time and place for all things. Iron Cloud’s land borders land belonging to the Oglala Lakota College and is helping the reservation school to develop its own buffalo herd. “We’re all learning how to take care of buffalo,” he said. Late Saturday afternoon, a cool misty rain fell over Red Cloud’s tipi set up next to Danylchuk’s log ranchhouse. The group of about 30 people who gathered to witness the buffalo giveaway and share in a symbolic buffalo barbecue were stunned by a spectacular double rainbow that framed the tipi against a dark blue sky – it seemed that Mother Nature herself had given her approval.