Plains bison photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Mistawasis First Nation is working on a project to renew the connection it once had with the buffalo.

The Nation to Nation Buffalo Treaty Project is looking to strengthen support to maintain healthy bison populations and the land and at the same time reconcile the relationship between the bison and Indigenous people.  Mistawasis First Nation is looking to sign on to a nation to nation treaty with with other First Nations in Alberta and the United States that honors and respects the importance of the buffalo to First Nations on both sides of the border.


Historically, the bison ranged all across the Prairies before the onset of western settlement, when hunters virtually wiped out the large herds, affecting the First Nations dependence on the animal greatly.

Anthony Johnston is the project coordinator for Mistawasis. He says the community has always had a connection to the bison.

“Historically, Mistawasis Neyhiyawak has had the connect to the buffalo and it’s a part of our history,” he says. “We are on a journey to look at the values of our ancestors and ancient ones and how it assisted them to survive and become strong.”

The project will actively engage the community with educational materials and informal open houses about the treaty project, which looks at renewal and restoration of the majestic animals that roamed the plains for centuries.

Johnston says there were some buffalo in the community at one time, but they weren’t for spiritual or cultural reasons. That herd is now gone and Johnston says they saw the buffalo as a potential cash cow for a lack of a better term.

Now the community is looking at re-learning what the buffalo means to First Nations people.

“I believe the buffalo is still with us in spirit,” he says.

There may be a chance the buffalo makes a return to the community. Johnston says by being close to the buffalo and with a larger herd, that might help the community remember their ancestors and the life they had with the buffalo.