Tatanka - American Bison

Untitled photo

Tatanka (American Bison)

There are many names for the American Bison. If you ask a wildlife biologist, these animals are called Bison bison bison. Because they are of the genus Bison, of the species bison, and the subspecies bison. To most of us they are often called buffalo, the name given to them by French fur trappers working in the US during the 17th century.


The Native Americans living on the Great Plains also had many name for Bison, iinniiwa in Blackfoot, ivanbito in Navajo, Kuts in Paiute, and Tatanka in Lakota. Another word for bison in Lakota is “pte.” The Lakota are sometimes known as pte oyate, meaning “buffalo nation.” For thousands of years, Native Americans relied heavily on tatanka for their survival and well-being, using every part of the animal for food, clothing, shelter, tools, jewelry and in ceremonies. For the Lakota people the tatanka gave up its own flesh and life to provide everything they needed to live on the Great Plains of North America. The tatanka represent generosity and self-sacrifice, giving what you have to others is one of the most highly respected things one can do. The bison was central to Lakota life, they lived as nomads following the the great herds as they moved across the North American Plains. As a symbol of just how important the bison are to the Lakota, a bison symbol or skull is present in all sacred rituals.


Before the 19th century Euro-American expansion into the west, it’s estimated there were 30 to 60 million bison in North America with their  range extending from Canada to Mexico and from New York to Oregon.

  • Untitled photo
  • Untitled photo
  • Untitled photo
  • Untitled photo
  • Untitled photo
Untitled photo

“The Great Slaughter”

Lasting from about 1820 to 1890 “The Great Slaughter was responsible for the near extinction of the American Bison and The Native American people that depended on it. It is estimated there were 40 million bison killed during a 55 year period from 1830 to 1885. In one year alone an estimated 3 million bison were slaughtered. When settlers expanded into the American West systematic hunting operations of bison began. These operations were big business, fueled by a demand for hides that could be used in industrial factories or for robes and rugs and the tongues, a delicacy, The rest of the animal was left to rot on the prairie. There  were other more sinister motives to the lucrative bison hunts on behalf of the U.S. Federal Government. The hunts were extremely profitable for the Government through taxation, but also a way to remove the Native Americans who were preventing the western expansion of the United States. One way to accomplish this was to kill off bison and starve the Native American people into submission.

By the late 19th Century there were an estimated 325 wild bison left in the country.

Recovery

Luckily in the late 19th century a few conservationists had the foresight to capture a few of the last remaining wild bison and move them to private land where they were protected from hunting. Originally formed in 1905, and re-established in 2005 The American Bison Society helped save the bison from extinction and is working to helping to bring them back to the Great Plains across North America. Today more than 60 Native American tribes are bringing their sacred Brother Buffalo back to their families, lands and ways of life.

Yellowstone National Park is the only place where wild bison have continuously lived since prehistoric times, today the park boasts the largest herd of wild bison (about 5,500) on public land in the United States.

In 2016 President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act. This marked the American Bison as the National Mammal; only second animal to represent the United States. The first being the American Bald Eagle. Through conservation and preservation programs, the American Bison population has risen to over 400,000 in public herds across North America.

The American Prairie Reserve located in Montana is working to establish the largest protected reserve in the US. The goal is to acquire just over 3 million acres to reestablish a fully functioning prairie ecosystem with wildlife corridors and all native species.

For more information on bison and where you can find them:

National Bison Day – November 5th, 2022 Annually on the first Saturday in November American Bison Society www.nationalmammal.org


To view past blogs visit: Nature Photography Blog



  • Untitled photo
  • Untitled photo
  • Untitled photo
  • Untitled photo
  • Hey Mom