We strive to gain a deeper understanding of tribal heritage by respecting and learning from Indigenous communities.
The closest of which include Fort Belknap Indian Community to the north, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes to the east, and the Chippewa Cree Rocky Boy Tribes to the northwest. Many within these communities share the vision of a fully functioning prairie ecosystem, and hold a deep and meaningful connection to the spiritual and cultural benefits of bison and wildlife restoration. In addition to being good over-the-fence neighbors, we work with one another to develop mutually beneficial collaborations.
We believe it is important to collaborate and support efforts related to the preservation and sharing of cultural heritage as we take part in the story of the landscape. We honor and grow from our shared challenges and successes in doing so. Visitors to this landscape have much to learn from those who have called it home for so long. We place great value on our relationships with Indigenous communities and the opportunities we have been afforded to engage and support in the sharing of stories, ceremony, food, language, and essential knowledge. We are grateful for the friendships, guidance, and growth that come to our staff and our organization from time spent in these communities, and look forward to a long path of collaboration and learning.
We have been privileged to get to know Montana’s Indigenous communities over time, and particularly with many people in the Aaniiih Nakoda Community– our closest tribal neighbor. This includes many friends and partners within the Fort Belknap Indian Community Tribal Council, the Nakoda Aaniiih Economic Development Corporation, Island Mountain Development Group, Aaniiih Nakoda College, and public schools, as well as elders, wildlife managers, and spiritual leaders. We also work with individuals and families in the Aaniiih Nakoda ranching community, who participate in our Wild Sky program.
American Prairie is supportive of Fort Belknap’s tourism efforts to welcome the public to respectfully explore and experience the natural beauty of the Little Rockies, as well as to learn more about the Aaniiih and Nakoda people, historically as well as who they are today. We regularly contract with guides at Aaniiih Nakoda Tours for cultural interpretation on and of the prairie, offering visitors the unique and important opportunity to view the landscape through a lens of Indigenous history and culture. We are also grateful for cultural consultations provided by members of the Aaniiih Nakoda Community as we developed the interpretive exhibits at our National Discovery Center, and as we continue to build programs.
Bison and Wildlife Restoration
The grasslands of the Great Plains hold cultural and spiritual significance for many Indigenous peoples living in Montana, who recognize and value the restoration of native species for both cultural and ecological reasons. As sovereign nations, tribes are uniquely positioned to engage in wildlife restoration, and have often led the way in this work.
We are honored to collaborate with tribes to promote cultural awareness, develop educational and economic opportunities, and exchange knowledge– especially when it comes to buffalo. The return and management of buffalo to the landscape is an area where American Prairie and tribal neighbors have found much common ground. We work with many tribes, in Montana and beyond, to contribute to the growing movement of returning bison to the land, and to keep those herds healthy genetically through animal exchanges. In 2021, American Prairie, along with the Confederated Salish Kootenai, contributed six bison to the new herd at Rocky Boy. We have sent bison to the Quapaw Nation, the Blackfeet Nation, the Pe’Sla site, the WoLakota Buffalo Range, and the One Spirit project. By 2022, American Prairie contributed more than 500 buffalo to Indigenous-led conservation herds and efforts around the US, and will continue these distributions and exchanges.
Our science partner, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, worked alongside the Nakoda and Aaniiih Tribes of Fort Belknap from 2020–2021 to reintroduce swift fox after an absence of 50 years. The work, honored by the Field Museum’s Parker Gentry Prize on 2021, built on more than a decade of collaboration to restore bison and other species to the lands of both American Prairie and the tribes.
Additional Resources for Learning
Tribal nations have lived in the Great Plains of Montana for thousands of years, each with distinct traditions, languages, art, and lifestyles. We encourage you to learn more about the region’s Indigenous Peoples at the sites below, in addition to visiting the communities themselves.