Denver Ends Bison Sales, Donates Animals to Tribal Nations

Councilwoman Jamie Torres (center), city and tribal leaders discuss the importance of conservation and honoring both the people and animals who lived in the area long before Denver was founded. Photos by David Sabados

Every week for the past few months, the Denver City Council has begun their Monday night meetings with a land acknowledgement, recognizing that the land Denver resides on is “is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Peoples” and stating they “honor Elders past, present, and future, and those who have stewarded this land throughout generations.” Councilwoman Jamie Torres (District 3 – West Denver) and the city’s park department want to make sure there’s action to go along with those words, gifting 13 adult bison to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes and one to the Tall Bull Memorial Council. 

Denver Parks and Recreation maintains two conservation bison herds in the city’s mountain parks. Those herds are the descendants of some of the last wild bison in North America and were kept at the Denver zoo until 1914, when they were moved into mountain parks. North American bison, often called buffalo, were nearly wiped out by the turn of the 20th century. 

For Councilwoman Torres, “this is what action on a land acknowledgement actually looks like.” The city had traditionally held auctions of younger bison, which yielded a meager $30,000 – $45,000. The auctions were not about money according to city officials, but simply a way to reduce the city’s bison population and the funds helped cover costs. Torres sponsored legislation to allow the donations and the city is planning on continuing donations in future years.

Councilwoman Torres, Mayor Michael Hancock, and Parks and Recreation ED Happy Haynes along with Deputy Scott Gilmore all joined tribal leaders in Genesee Park to see the animals off. After traditional ceremonial blessings and more contemporary political speeches from all parties, the animals were rounded up for their journey to tribal lands.

Bison from Denver will help genetically diversify herds across North America

The gift is not just about relations between Denver and indigenous tribes though. All 14 bison are female and half of them are currently pregnant; Denver’s herds are genetically unique and the goal is to infuse other herds with genes from Denver’s, diversifying stock and increasing the health of North American bison populations. 

“This donation is the result and culmination of a very long, storied history and relationship with the State of Colorado,” said Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Governor Reggie Wassana. “The Tribes plan to use the donated bison as a cultural, conservation and educational resource, with the goal of locating the bison on our own tribal natural plains habitat.” 

For Councilwoman Torres, it’s a meaningful action and one that she hopes will help “dismantle legacies of oppression,” serving both diplomatic and conservation purposes. It’s “small action after small action.”

Note: Due to a technical issue, the description of the photo with Councilwoman Torres was cut off in the print version of this story. We regret the error.


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