Riders carry the flags of the United States and the state of South Dakota during a Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park. This year's event takes place on September 28. Photo: Daren Jessip
Tim Giago: South Dakota still doesn't get it when it comes to tribes and bison

Notes from Indian Country

Let’s try it one more time
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji – Stands Up For Them)

Last year and the year before that I wrote columns suggesting that the State of South Dakota’s Game, Fish, and Parks open its Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park to Native American warriors so that they can find their rightful place in this tradition.

What I wrote went way over the heads of the GFP officials and of Gov. Dennis Daugaard. They had absolutely no concept of the meaning of the buffalo to the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota societies. They could not fathom how sacred the buffalo was and is to the Indian culture.

What we need now is for one of our Wicasa Wakan (Holy Men) to sit down with the leadership of Game, Fish and Parks and governor Daugaard and educate them about the sacredness of the buffalo (tatanka) to the Indian culture and traditions. That may be the only way it will sink into their heads.

Let me reiterate. Every fall the GFP holds a roundup of the buffalo herd at Custer State Park and every year they bring white cowboys from wherever to do the riding and rounding up. The cowboy was a late comer to the Great Plains and never saw the millions of buffalo ranging from Mexico to Canada in the early 1800s. The Indian culture was dependent upon the buffalo for its very survival.

When the white government and settlers discovered that if the millions of buffalo were exterminated it would mean the end of the Indian society as it existed then they systematically set about making it happen. The mighty buffalo was slaughtered by the millions until only a handful remained on Ina Maka; Mother Earth.

By then the once Great Sioux Nation had been reduced to poverty and starvation by the loss of their economy. The buffalo was their economy. Without the resources to save the vanishing herds the Sioux people watched helplessly while the source of their existence was destroyed before their very eyes. If you are not a member of a Great Plains tribe can you even imagine what this destruction did to a great people?

The buffalo hunt was a sacred ceremony for the Plains Indians. Becoming a part of the Buffalo Roundup would be a sacred symbol to any Lakota rider. The symbolism to all Native Americans of the Great Plains would be an awesome thing. It allows the Tribes to once again become a part of a ceremony that is a testimony to their culture and history.

When I suggested this in one of my columns Lydia Austin, Interpretive Programs Manager for GFP, sent me an application suggesting that I should somehow get that application into the hands of the tribal leaders to fill out and hope to be accepted as a rider in the Buffalo Roundup. “Interpretive Programs Manager?” What in the heck is she interpreting; certainly not the history, culture and traditions of the Indian people.

It should not be up to the tribes of South Dakota to fill out applications hoping to be accepted as riders in the Buffalo Roundup. An invitation should be sent by Gov. Daugaard to the leaders of all the tribes of the Great Plains requesting that they send him and GFP a list of Indian riders they would like to participate in the Roundup. And then room should be made for them.

Imagine the pageantry and the inter-national interest if warriors of the Great Plains in full regalia rode on to the fields with the white cowboys to participate in the Buffalo Roundup. It would be a sight that would revive a religious and historic event right before the eyes of thousands.

Tourists from around the world would come to South Dakota to see such a vision. Where is the imagination of Gov. Daugaard and the managers of GFP? More than that where is their sense of history and symbolism sacred to the Native Americans?

I can only write about it. Our tribal leaders can make it happen. And if any tribal member wants this to happen they can write to: Lydia Austin, Interpretive Programs Manager, South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks, Custer State Park, 13329 U. S. Highway 16A, Custer, South Dakota 57730 or call her at 605-255-4515.

Like I said, I can only write about it, but it will take the will of the people and the tribal leaders to make it happen.

Contact Tim Giago at najournalist1@gmail.com. Giago is the founder of the Native American Journalists Association.