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Denver Addresses 'Wrongs of the Past' With a Gift of Bison

Parks department is giving surplus bison to indigenous tribes over 10 years
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 15, 2021 10:25 AM CDT

(Newser) – The city of Denver was in the game of selling bison. But in a new move, it's opting to gift bison to indigenous tribes across the country as a form of reparations. Denver Parks and Recreation keeps two bison herds descended from a small number of Yellowstone bison, and it usually auctions off surplus animals to keep grazing in check, reports NPR. This year, however, there was a surplus even after a March auction. Another auction "wasn't something we really wanted to do," says department exec Scott Gilmore. As tribes are working to establish food sovereignty on ancestral lands, per Civil Eats, "it just really made a lot of sense" to work together, Gilmore says. After all, "bison were killed off to actually negatively impact the tribes on the Great Plains," so "basically you've taken away a way that they sustain themselves."

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Under a 10-year order, surplus bison will now be given to tribes across the country as a form of reparations for the mass slaughter of bison in the late 1800s. Thirteen adult females went to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma this month, while one went to the Tall Bull Memorial Council in Colorado. The bison join the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes' herd of 530, which overseer Nathan Hart hopes will eventually reach 800 in number. He notes the new members—some of whom are due to give birth to calves within weeks—will improve genetic diversity and aid the tribes in achieving food sovereignty. "It just demonstrates the resiliency of both the American Indian and the bison animal itself," he tells NPR. Adds Denver Mayor Michael Hancock: "I don't think it's ever too late to acknowledge the challenges and the wrongs of the past." (Read more bison stories.)

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