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Published November 08, 2013, 06:21 PM

Native Spirit: Bison

The bison has always been a vital part of Native American culture and history and now there's a day dedicated to honoring the importance of the animal.

By: Adam Ladwig, WDAZ

The bison has always been a vital part of Native American culture and history and now there's a day dedicated to honoring the importance of the animal.

In the Lakota Language they're called tatanka. Today, they're called bison or buffalo, and they still roam the lands of the Spirit Lake Nation. But that wasn't always the case.

"I don't think the buffalo has ever been forgotten. I think it was just that there wasn't enough around," said Herd Manager Raymond Jetty.

He's been slowly building up the Spirit Lake bison heard over the last 20 years.

Raymond: "From five head to 150 at this point."

Jetty is the sole manager of the heard. He says it's hard work, but it's for a purpose.

Raymond: "Mainly it's for bring the buffalo back. It's for spiritual, cultural reasons.

The bison is starting to get more recognition. The US Senate recognized November second as the first National Bison Day. Spirit Lake tribal chairman Russ McDonald says the tribe was eager to join in the festivities with a large display showing what the bison meant to Native Americans.

"On a historical context, our homes, our teepees were made out of buffalo hide. Our clothing. Our shoes. Our bedding. Our food came from the buffalo," said McDonald.

Spirit Lake isn't alone in celebrating the bison. The tribe is part of the Intertribal Buffalo Council, a nationwide group of tribes, which has been advocating for the bison to be named the national mammal.

Raymond: "I think it's important for future generations to recognize the buffalo's role and their contribution to us."

People got the chance to get up close to the herd on Bison Day, with guided tours into their pasture.

National Bison Day is more than a celebration of Native American Culture and History. It's also a celebration of how important bison still is today, in Native American life.

Russ: "They're also still used for food yet."

Raymond: "I butcher one buffalo a month for the community. They get hamburger, roast and stew."

With a new holiday and a resurgent bison heard the hope is that no one on Spirit Lake ever forgets the history or the present importance of the majestic tatanka.

Russ: "We need to continue to strive to share our culture with our younger generation that they continue to recognize the buffalo and share with their younger generations, that it's passed on."

The Spirit Lake Bison heard will welcome some new faces in the next couple weeks. An additional 40 animals are coming to the reservation from the National Park Service.

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