Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux Tribe baffled by missing bison

The following story was written and reported by Jesse Abernathy, Native Sun News Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

PINE RIDGE RESERVATION, SOUTH DAKOTA –– In a case eerily reminiscent of the recent turmoil on the Cheyenne River Reservation stemming from that tribe’s near loss of its buffalo herd in a legal battle, the Oglala Sioux Tribe is currently in search of some missing buffalo.

Reports started circulating last month that the tribe’s buffalo herd count was off by approximately 100-150 head, though estimates are wildly inconsistent. It is also unclear how many total head of the traditionally revered creatures the tribe actually owns.

The tribal administration’s lack of accountability for the livestock has sent a shockwave of disbelief and speculation throughout this large, landlocked island community. Many residents will not speak publicly about the controversy for fear of retaliation by those in charge of both internal and external governmental dealings.

The case is being jointly investigated by the FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Justice Services.

According to some tribal members, deputies from the nearby Sheridan County Sheriff’s Department in Nebraska shot and killed a few of the tribe’s roaming buffalo near Gordon, which lies some 40 miles to the south of the intermingled Pine Ridge Reservation and South Dakota borders.

Not so, says Sheridan County Sheriff Terry Robbins.

“I know that the Sheridan County Sheriff’s office has not shot any buffalo,” said Robbins. “Whether they belong to the (Oglala Sioux) Tribe or anybody else, we have shot no buffalo,” he said.

Robbins said that the tribe has contacted him in the past to inquire as to whether or not any wandering buffalo had been reported in the area.

“We found none roaming,” he said.

The tribe said it was missing some buffalo, said Robbins, but we never did see any roaming in Sheridan County.

There have also never been any reports of Sheridan County residents shooting and killing buffalo, according to Robbins.

OST Council Fifth Member Myron Pourier said that the case should be coming to a close soon, according to information given to him by the Office of Justice Services’ lead investigator, John Long.

Long, who serves as supervisory special agent for the OJS, could not be reached for comment about the ongoing investigation.

Pourier also serves as vice chairman of the board of directors for the tribe’s Parks and Recreation Authority, which manages the buffalo herd.

He declined to comment further, instead referring Native Sun News to the tribe’s attorney in the matter, Charles Abourezk of Rapid City, for additional comment.

Abourezk, however, could not be contacted for an interview.

According to Bob Perry, supervisory senior resident agent with the FBI in Rapid City, around 80 buffalo are missing from the OST’s ranks.

“We’re not calling them stolen or anything else, we’re just saying that we, along with the BIA, are looking into the fact that there’s some buffalo missing from the tribe,” he said.

Several tribal members contend that the Parks and Recreation Authority has mismanaged the buffalo herd almost to the point of extinction on the reservation.

“The buffalo are sacred to us as Lakota people,” said one concerned OST member, who requested to remain anonymous. “Without them, we have nothing. Without them, we are nothing.”

Calls to the tribe’s president, John Yellow Bird Steele, and vice president, Tom Poor Bear, were not returned.

(Contact Jesse Abernathy at

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