Application of a Holistic Process to Improve Community and Ecological Health by Reintroduction of Plains Bison to the Wind River Indian Reservation

EPA Grant Number: FP917294
Title: Application of a Holistic Process to Improve Community and Ecological Health by Reintroduction of Plains Bison to the Wind River Indian Reservation
Investigators: Baldes, Jason E
Institution: Montana State University
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: August 1, 2011 through July 31, 2013
Project Amount: $84,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Tribes and American Indian/Alaska Native/Pacific Islander Communities


In Indian country, there are predominantly higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and other healthrelated problems from removal of native food traditions. Additionally, assimilation policies have led to loss of cultural values, language and ecological knowledge that was once passed down through successive generations. By reintroducing buffalo to the Wind River Indian Reservation, members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes will once again have access to additional food sources that improve lives, health, spirituality and ecological integrity of the Reservation. This project will utilize a community-based approach to restoration by incorporating existing programs and youth education to raise awareness and provide ownership within the community for the effort.


The first component of research will be an inventory of edible and medicinal plants utilized by Shoshone and Arapaho people in the areas identified for buffalo reintroduction to compare vegetation biodiversity after reintroduction takes place. Traditional ecological knowledge provided from tribal elders will be bridged with youth involved with the Wind River Native Science Field Center, Five Buffalo Days, and Diabetes programs to foster support and understanding for cultural, nutritional and ecological importance of buffalo restoration. Additional steps in the project will consist of identifying potential source herds that are genetically reputable and disease free. The introduced herd of buffalo will be managed as wildlife under the Wind River Tribal Game Code, and be consistent with current species conservation strategies to maintain genetic diversity.

Expected Results:

With establishment and access to buffalo, overall health of Indian people will be improved, plant biodiversity will increase, and ecological and historical conditions will be restored. Linking elders with youth in an effort to restore a cultural icon improves the ability of children to make choices without disregard to traditional belief ways and customs. By establishing genetically reputable and disease free buffalo, preservation of the buffalo genome is acknowledged and potentially will provide source animals to other tribes or entities who wish to establish conservation herds. The animal will provide a valuable source of nutrition to elders, youth and community members during feasts and ceremonies. Health disparities, spirituality, cultural and traditional values, and strength of Shoshone and Arapaho people will improve with the presence of the buffalo.

Potential to Further Environmental/ Human Health Protection

This project will set a precedent for what management of buffalo can be on tribal lands. The animal is central to the culture of the Shoshone and Arapaho people and is integral to many other tribes struggling to hold on to cultural belief ways, ceremonies, language and customs. With the highest rates of diabetes, heart disease and nutrition-related problems of any ethnic group in America, Native Americans are at a crossroads in the effort to improve lives of future generations. Ecologically, there is no animal that can replace what the buffalo was to the landscape, and in Indian county, human health protection and buffalo preservation are not mutually exclusive, they are intertwined.

Supplemental Keywords:

Plains Bison, buffalo, reintroduction, restoration, health disparities, diabetes, heart disease, native food traditions, traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), ecological integrity

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2012
  • Final