ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota farm welcomes buffalo's return to tribal land

"It was awesome to hear the thunder of their hooves on the ground," said David Wise. Before Monday, there were no buffalo within the reservation boundaries of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

David Wise buffalo daughter.jpg
David Wise shows daughter Eliza Annemasung Wise, 3, buffalo. The 11 bison arrived Monday night to Wise's 380 acres in Sawyer, Minnesota, a donation from the Nature Conservancy and due to efforts of Wise and nonprofit the Tanka Fund. Before Monday, there were no buffalo within the reservation boundaries of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
Contributed / David Wise
We are part of The Trust Project.

SAWYER, Minnesota — David Wise welcomed buffalo home Monday night.

With a smudge pot of burning sage, he called their Ojibwe name and about 11 bison darted out of their trailer onto Fond du Lac (Gwaaba'iganing) soil.

“They’ve been missing here since the 1800s,” said Wise. “It was awesome to hear the thunder of their hooves.”

Before Monday, there were no buffalo within the reservation boundaries of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. To celebrate, David and Patra Wise of Native Wise LLC will host a prayer, a welcoming song and a meal for community members from 3-5 p.m. Friday at 4020 Kari Road, Sawyer.

The event is a couple of years in the making.

ADVERTISEMENT

090520.F.DNT.NATIVECSA c04.JPG
Small-scale farmers Patra and David Wise were selling their goods in the Indigenous First market. When the market was shut down due to COVID-19, they received help from Indigenous First Arts and Gift Shop coordinator Jazmin Wong in creating community-supported agriculture boxes. There are currently 25 monthly subscribers.
Tyler Schank / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune
Buffalo graze in a fenced-in pasture.
Buffalo graze in a fenced-in pasture in Sawyer, Minnesota, on Tuesday. “They’ve been missing here since the 1800s,” said David Wise of Native Wise LLC. “It was awesome to hear the thunder of their hooves.
Melinda Lavine / Duluth News Tribune

The Wises have been working with the Tanka Fund aims to restore buffalo to Native families and communities. They work closely with the Nature Conservancy, which donated the buffalo.

Interested recipients contact the Tanka Fund, which ensures there is access to land and a plan for infrastructure. The nonprofit provides grant dollars, education and assistance, said Trudy Ecoffey, executive director.

The Tanka Fund covered transportation and vet checks for the Wises’ buffalo, while the Sawyer business owners added fencing, created a watering system and built a corral.

While the Wises are the first Minnesota recipients, the South Dakota-based nonprofit has completed buffalo projects on Standing Rock Reservation and on Rosebud Reservation, among others.

A person with long hair tied back smiles for a photo while wearing a thick brown coat, a snowy landscape behind them.
Dr. Trudy Ecoffey
Contributed / Tanka Fund

This process is an opportunity for cultural, spiritual, ecological revitalization that’s been lost “because millions of buffalo were slaughtered in the 1800s,” said Ecoffey.

There used to be 30-60 million bison across North America. They provided food, clothing, shelter and spiritual well-being for Native peoples, who used nearly every part of the animal including its horns, meat, hide and tail hairs.

U.S. government officials ordered the slaughter of some 50 million buffalo in an effort to starve Natives into submission and obliterate a key component of survival.

The buffalo are an “icon of strength of not just Indigenous people but of North America,” Ecoffey added.

ADVERTISEMENT

David Wise had heard of the Tanka Fund while working at the USDA. He’d reached out more than a year ago after a dream, in which “Chief Buffalo said, ‘Bring back my namesake.’

“I didn’t know what he meant,” Wise recalled, but he does now.

From their 380 acres, Native Wise LLC offers wild rice, raw honey, CBD products and have plans for more. Wise hopes to reconnect and educate area Native youth on bison and their impact on regional ecology. He also wants to build a bigger herd, create an apprentice program, among other ideas.

“Those animals deserve to live here, this is where they evolved. That’s why I’d doing what I’m doing,” he said

If you go

What: Native Wise celebration: Join for a prayer, a welcoming song and a meal for community members.

When: 3-5 p.m. Friday

Where: Native Wise, 4020 Kari Road, Sawyer, Minnesota

More info: nativewisellc.net

ADVERTISEMENT

Buffalo graze in a fenced-in pasture. Some munch on the sandy green grass with a cloudy sky above them.
The buffalo are an “icon of strength of not just Indigenous people but of North America,” said Trudey Ecoffey of the Tanka Fund.
Melinda Lavine / Duluth News Tribune
MORE BY MELINDA LAVINE
"I’ve been out on that trail. I know what the hills are like, I know what the conditions are like. ... I have so much respect for them," Mallory Cummings of Duluth said.

Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346, mlavine@duluthnews.com.
What To Read Next