Sask. First Nation welcomes bison back to their territory
Cote First Nation released 24 bison onto reserve land
Cote First Nation Chief George Cote says it's a day he won't soon forget.
The First Nation, located 360 kilometres east of Saskatoon, released 24 bison back onto their territory on Monday.
"The buffalo have returned to our community after 150 years of being non-existent on our land," said Chief Cote.
"It's a very exciting time for our community. It was a historic event."
WATCH | The bison return:
The chief said bison are an important part of Saulteaux culture. Before the bison were nearly wiped out, they played an essential role for Indigenous people living on the prairies.
While they were an important food source and provided material for clothing and shelter, they were also culturally important.
"Buffalo are very resilient," said Chief Cote.
"They can survive in the harshest winters and in the harshest storms. So, it kind of gives you some vision on how we should also survive."
While the loss of the bison was devastating to his culture, he believes their return will be an important moment for healing.
"With the buffalo coming to our community, it sure opened up our eyes to realize how spiritually gifted these animals are," he said.
"It makes a connection not only with us, but with the land as well."
Cote First Nation has been working on bringing bison onto the reserve for four years. After hearing stories about similar bison return programs on First Nations across Saskatchewan, the band council got to work.
They set aside pasture land and built a fence, and prepared a water system and got hay ready for winter. Then, they started talking to a bison rancher from Alberta who donated the two bulls and 22 cows.
Now, Chief Cote wants to return the favour and plans on donating some of the bison to another First Nation in the future, so they can continue a breeding program of their own.
Chief Cote said he believes the bison will be important for younger generations as well.
"The children, which are our future, we want to ensure that we have something in place for them," he said.
"We just wanted to share with them that we are looking after their future."
With files from Samanda Brace