Ryan Mackey sang a sacred Cherokee verse as he scattered tobacco where bison grazed in northeastern Oklahoma. Since 1992 the federally chartered InterTribal Buffalo Council has helped relocate surplus bison to 82 member tribes in 20 states, who manage over 20,000 buffalo on tribal lands. “Our goal and mission is to restore buffalo back to Indian country for that cultural and spiritual connection that Indigenous people have with the buffalo,” says executive director Troy Heinert. In Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation, one of the largest Native American tribes, got 38 bison in 2014. Now about 215, the herd roams a 500-acre pasture. “And this idea of relationship and respect and guardianship -- with the land, with the Earth, with all those things that reside on it -- it’s passed down," says Mackey. That’s why the bison’s return to Cherokee lands matters. “The bison aren’t just meat. They represent abundance and health and strength.”

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