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Bison spread as Native American tribes reclaim stewardship

Bison, also known as buffalo, walk in a herd inside a corral at Badlands National Park, on Oct. 13, 2022, near Wall, S.D. The wild animals were corralled for transfer to Native American tribes, part of an effort by Indigenous groups working with federal officials to expand the number of bison on reservations. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

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Using all formats and hard-won exclusive access, Matthew Brown, Emma Tobin and Toby Brusseau took readers and viewers inside efforts by Native American tribes to restore bison to their lands after the animals were driven near extinction by white settlers.

Billings, Mont. Correspondent Brown through his reporting and sourcing learned that native tribes are undertaking a major effort to bring bison back to their lands and restore ecological balance, a sustainable food source and the cultural and spiritual connections of their forefathers. After months of negotiating access to one tribe’s herd, only to have it fall through. The National Park Service, which had been providing surplus bison from its herds, was less than cooperative, too. Brown eventually convinced the director of the InterTribal Buffalo Council, a group that has arranged for shipment of thousands of bison to dozens of tribes, to allow the AP to accompany him during the transfer of 100 animals from Badlands National Park, South Dakota, to the Rosebud Sioux Reservation.

Brown also secured access to a tribal buffalo hunt. He and Tobin took remarkable photos and video of bison being loaded at the park, shipped across South Dakota and unloaded on the reservation; a bison harvest where one of the animals was shot on the Rosebud Sioux’s sprawling buffalo range; the blessing of the animal that “gave” itself; and finally the butchering of it so the meat could be shared through a tribal food program. Brown’s engaging and colorful narrative wove in history of bison in America, details on tribal restoration efforts as well as quotes from Brown’s exclusive interview with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold a cabinet level post. The piece was part of a two-story collaboration with the Religion Team, which ran an article highlighting Native Americans’ spiritual connection to bison.

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