Mullin, Heinrich Introduce Bipartisan Indian Buffalo Management Act

U.S. Senators Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced the bipartisan Indian Buffalo Management Act, legislation to create a permanent buffalo program at the U.S. Department of the Interior and help promote and develop Tribal capacity to manage buffalo.

The Indian Buffalo Management Act provides secure, consistent funding for Tribes and Tribal organizations that have an established buffalo herd and management program, as well as provides resources for Tribes that would like to establish new herds.

“I am proud to co-lead this important legislation that will help Tribes reestablish buffalo herds on reservation lands,” said Sen. Mullin. “Doing so ensures that Native peoples across the country will continue reconnecting with a keystone of their historic culture and way of life.”

“The bison has been a critical part of our culture for many generations, in New Mexico, across the West, and especially in Indian Country. The growth of Tribal buffalo herds over the last few decades is both a symbol of the enduring resilience of this iconic species and a major economic development opportunity,” said Sen. Heinrich. “I am proud to champion this bipartisan legislation to strengthen our federal support for Tribal bison programs. I hope that within my lifetime—thanks to a broad coalition—we will see bison return to the prominent place they once occupied as the keystone species on American shortgrass prairies.”

“I want to truly commend Senators Heinrich and Mullin for introducing this legislation,” said Ervin Carlson (Blackfeet), President of the InterTribal Buffalo Council, representing 82 Tribes in 21 states. “It is simply impossible to overstate both the importance of the buffalo to the Indian people and the damage that was done when the buffalo were nearly wiped out. By helping tribes reestablish buffalo herds on our reservation lands, the Congress will help us reconnect with a keystone of our historic culture as well as create jobs and an important source of protein that our people truly need. As this legislation moves forward, we must also remember our dear friend, the late Congressman Don Young of Alaska who first proposed this important bill.”

“Buffalo are as ubiquitous to the land as the Indigenous peoples that have resided here for thousands of years. The species is necessary to not only heal the land but to revive and protect our culture and maintain connection to our ancestral heritage,” said Jason Baldes, Board Member of the InterTribal BuffaloCouncil and Senior Tribal buffalo Program Manager for the National Wildlife Federation. “The Indian Buffalo Management Act not only acknowledges, but celebrates the intergenerational knowledge we hold in caring for this species and provides resources to ensure we can continue working with Tribal, federal and conservation partners to establish prolific populations of buffalo across the country. We’re grateful for Senator Heinrich and Senator Mullin’s leadership on the important initiative.”

“Markwayne Mullin helped champion this bill when he was in the House of Representatives, and we could not be prouder to have him continue to lead now as a United States Senator,” said Reggie Wassana, Governor of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. “As a member of the Cherokee Nation, Markwayne understands the essential role the buffalo have played for the tribes of Oklahoma. We proudly feature buffalo on our new website and appreciate the help we have received over the years from the InterTribal Buffalo Council.”

“The buffalo is a national icon with a connection to many Indigenous communities that cannot be overstated. That connection was nearly severed as buffalo were hunted to near extinction in the late 1800s and Indigenous peoples were dispossessed from their lands. This legislation would support the continued efforts to recover the species and restore that connection through tribal ownership and management of buffalo and their habitat on Indigenous lands,” said Mike Fuhr, State Director, The Nature Conservancy in Oklahoma. “The act would put the focus on where it can make the biggest difference by enabling Indigenous communities to lead on this effort. The Nature Conservancy has been honored to aid in this effort in recent years through the transfer of its buffalo to Indigenous communities, and commends Sens.Mullin and Heinrich for their bipartisan leadership on this issue.”

The Indian Buffalo Management creates a permanent buffalo restoration and management program within the Department of Interior to:

  1. Promote and develop the capacity of Tribes and tribal organizations to manage buffalo and buffalo habitat.
  2. Protect and enhance buffalo herds for the maximum benefit of Tribes.
  3. Ensure that Tribes are directly involved in the Interior Department decision-making regarding buffalo.

The bill has been endorsed by the InterTribal Buffalo Council, the National Bison Association, The Nature Conservancy, and the National Wildlife Federation.

Additional Background:  

  1. Full Bill Text
  2. Fact Sheet

The American Plains Bison, also known as the American Buffalo, is deeply connected to many Tribes, and has always held great meaning for Indian peoples. Prior to the systematic destruction of the buffalo in 1800s, there were over 60 million bison roaming freely throughout much of the United States. They provided the Tribes with everything from clothing, to food, to shelter, to utensils, to pouches, to headdresses, to containers, to arrows and much more. It is impossible to overstate their importance to Indian people historically and to this day, culturally.

The Department of Interior has provided nominal funds for buffalo management for over 20 years but in a rather piecemeal and arbitrary fashion, depending on Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) leadership any given year. This legislation affirms that commitment and authorizes a permanent buffalo management program that will provide secure, consistent funding for Tribes and Tribal organizations that already have established buffalo herds and management programs and provides the opportunity to expand the program to other interested Tribes.

There are now 82 Tribes in 21 states who are members of the InterTribal Buffalo Council. There were 19 tribal members in 1991.