In the summer of 2023, American Prairie partnered with the Freeflow Institute to host two of their courses for two nights each at the Lewis and Clark Hut on the historic and beautiful PN property at Judith Landing along the Missouri River. Those courses included “Good Ancestors,” taught by Metis storyteller and Montana Poet Laureate Chris La Tray, as well as “The Law of People and Place,” a collaboration with the University of Montana’s School of Indian Law. American Prairie was pleased to be able to send staff out to visit with “Good Ancestors” course participants, and to be able to help support one student’s participation in “The Law of People and Place.”

“The Law of People and Place,” a seven-day field course on natural resources and Indian law, explored the Missouri River Breaks and American Prairie by canoe and foot. The course focused on comparing federal, state, and tribal approaches to cultural and natural resource management. We were honored to get to work with law student Amber Ellison. Amber, originally from South Dakota, described the experience as both informative and nostalgic. “The highlights of my childhood often involve the memories I have associated with my grandparents’ 2,000-acre cattle ranch by Meadow, South Dakota,” she said.

“My grandparents’ ranch on the Great Plains was the first ‘wild place’ that I truly connected with and that natural environment that I loved as a child very closely mirrored the environment I experienced within the field course,” Amber shared. “I recognized similar plants, wildlife, and even weather—as I had temporarily forgotten about the moxie of Great Plains’ wind (until I watched it capsize an elderly couple’s canoe).”

Amber studied Sustainability as an undergraduate at the University of South Dakota and is now pursuing her law degree at the University of Montana, with a focus on Environmental Law and American Indian Law. Speaking to the impact of the course on her studies, Amber shared: “I have never camped for so long in my life and it was an awesome and challenging experience that helped reinforce why it is so important to preserve these areas. While I have fond memories associated with cattle ranches, I also did not know beforehand just how much the industry has had an impact on biodiversity within the Great Plains and how laws historically have further contributed to this problem. I am excited to see the law increasingly used instead as an avenue to balance competing interests in a way that does not result in desecration of the natural resources, biodiversity, and First Nations of the Great Plains.” The Freeflow course further solidified her passion towards the preservation of rural areas, Amber said, and the protection of the sovereignty of its first people.

"Power to the Plover" - Keep Prairies Forever Wild
American Prairie’s Wild Horse property preserves habitat for the Mountain Plover (“Prairie Ghost”), a species that has lost 80 percent of its population since the 60s due to habitat loss (American Bird Conservancy).

After the Freeflow course, Amber was inspired to create a series of educational posters share information and create awareness around endangered grassland birds. She incorporated research on the birds, photos one of her fellow students took during the course, inspiration from 1970’s era conservation and park posters, and American Prairie’s announcement about the 2022 purchase of the Wild Horse property: our first parcel bordering the Aaniiih and Nakoda community at Fort Belknap, which also offers critical habitat for a variety of prairie bird species.

Amber’s posters focused on three species: Sprague’s pipit, the chestnut-collared longspur, and the mountain plover.

“I hope that when people see the posters, they feel nostalgic themselves, as well as curious about the birds and American Prairie’s connection to them. All three bird species have lost such a high percentage of their population from habitat loss… It is easy for us to assume that the Great Plains look the same today as before colonization, but what we see today lacks many of the plant and animal species that called this environment home. These species have been eradicated both unintentionally and purposefully in the pursuit of human interests and it is important for us to not shy away from this fact, but rather always be reevaluating how we can be better cohabitants of the land.”

Thanks to Amber and the Freeflow team for this great collaboration opportunity. To order one of Amber’s posters, reach out to her directly via email.

Grassland Bird Posters - Pipits and Longspurs
American Prairie’s properties help preserve habitat for Sprague’s Pipit (“Spirit in the Sky”) and the Chestnut-collared Longspur (“Grassland Spirit”), species that have lost 79 percent and 85 percent of their populations since the 60s due to habitat loss (American Bird Conservancy).