The Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park in South Dakota. This year's event takes place on September 28. Photo: Daren Jessip

Tim Giago: Why aren't Lakota warriors welcomed at Buffalo Roundup?

Notes from Indian Country

The mighty buffalo was not ‘hunted to near extinction’
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji – Stands Up For Them)

Some call it the Governor’s Buffalo Roundup and it is an event staged annually at Custer State Park in South Dakota. Simply put, once per year a group of white cowboys herd the huge buffalo herd at the Park into pens to be counted and sorted. There are about 14,000 spectators that show up every year for this spectacle.

I have written about it because there is one element missing from this roundup: Lakota warriors.

Last year just before the event, Governor Dennis Daugaard wrote about how the buffalo disappeared and an article in our local daily addressed the topic by reporting how the vast buffalo herds were “hunted to near extinction.” Both the Governor and the local newspaper do not know the history of the buffalo and of South Dakota’s role in bringing the herds to near extinction.

Go back a thousand years as a starter. The buffalo wasn’t just an animal; the buffalo was a brother to the Native Americans of the Plains. The buffalo provided food, clothing, shelter and tools to them. The Tribes such as the Lakota, or Sioux as they were known then, didn’t need anything else to survive. And as the movement west approached its frenzy and gold became the driving force the only road block to the total domination of the land was the Indian.

The settlers knew this as did the federal government. There was one sure way to subdue the Indian; kill his source of survival. Bounties were set on buffalo and the slaughter began. Herds that once approached 60 million in numbers were reduced to a handful. In 1840 once could stand on a hill in Kadoka, South Dakota and look to the South and the North and watch herds of buffalo as far as the eye could see in either direction.

Young Lakota boys learned to ride a horse from the time they were two to three years old. It was their ambition to join their fathers and brothers on the buffalo hunts. There was a spiritual ritual each spring held in every Lakota camp as the men and boys prepared for the spring hunt. Now that was a true hunt and not a so-called hunt to bring an extinction to the vast herds of buffalo in order to bring the Indians to their knees. The white people knew the buffalo provided everything to the Lakota, but they never knew the spiritual and religious significance or symbolism that was also a major part of the Sioux Indian’s relationship to the buffalo.

And that is why I suggested that Custer State Park include Lakota riders to participate in the buffalo roundup. But the spiritual connection it held for the Lakota people flew over the heads of the Park managers and of the governor of the State of South Dakota.

If they were putting on a show to draw 14,000 annual visitors to the state just think of how many they would draw if there were true Lakota warriors riding in that roundup. The significance and the symbolism of this small gesture is totally oblivious to South Dakota’s Game Fish and Park leaders as well as to the governor. To the Lakota riders it would be more than just chasing a herd of buffalo; it would be a religious symbol of their culture and traditions and yet because of the stupidity of those who could make it happen, the Lakota riders are denied that opportunity.

Last year a Game Fish and Parks representative sent me an application that each rider would have to fill out if they wanted to participate. What was I supposed to do with that application? It is my belief that in order to extend the idea of reconciliation brought about by Governor George Mickelson and myself 28 years ago those people with little or no vision should step aside. What we need now in the year 2018 are people of vision. We need people to put away the prejudices and stupidity of years gone by and to think creatively. Let’s get this done.

It would be one of the happiest days of my life and I am sure in the life of many Lakota elder to see Lakota warriors dressed in their finest apparel riding across the He Sapa (Black Hills) in the traditions of their ancestors in pursuit of their brothers the Tatanka. I am sure that tourists from as far away as Germany would stand there with tears in their eyes to see such a glorious sight.

Contact Tim Giago, founder of the Native American Journalists Association, at

Join the Conversation