Shoshone-Bannock woman renews tradition of buffalo hunt

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Fort Hall, Idaho (AP) 1-08

A 22-year-old woman is the latest member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes to kill a buffalo, renewing a tradition of American Indians in the region who once relied on the giant animals for their livelihoods.

Tradition Dann was chosen during 2007 in a random drawing to kill one of the buffaloes her tribe raises in a pasture on the Fort Hall Reservation in southwestern Idaho. Dann’s killing of the buffalo, tagged with a violet ear marker with the number “356,” is part of broader American Indian interest in ceremonial bison hunting, animals that once numbered in the millions across much of North America before they were reduced to small isolated herds in the mid-19th century by rampant killing by white European settlers pressing west.

As a girl, Dann remembers how she swam in streams near where the buffalo grazed and dreamed of participating in a hunt like her ancestors did.

“I would just be sitting there watching them for a long time,” Dann, whose family traces its ancestry to Chief Pocatello, told the Idaho State Journal. “I just imagined how they would be like back in the old days.”

In addition to hunts on its land, the Shoshone-Bannock tribe also wants to expand its buffalo hunting elsewhere, starting in 2008 or 2009. In November, they became the latest Idaho Indian group after the Nez Perce and Salish and Kootenai tribes to demand rights they say they were promised by a 19th-century treaty for hunts in Montana and Wyoming.

The animal targeted by Dann during December was part of the herd managed by Lance Tissidimit, the tribe’s buffalo master. Members must enter a drawing for one of the tags; nontribal members are allowed to purchase a tag, with prices based on the size and gender of the animals.

Dann, who has hunted deer and speared salmon, said she entered the drawing on a whim after seeing the signup sheet on a tribal Department of Fish and Game clipboard in nearby Fort Hall.

She wasn’t prepared when Tissidimit called later and spoke on her answering machine.

“Hey Tradition, it’s me Lance,” she recalls his message. “When are you going to come shoot your buffalo?”

Dressed in a black winter coat and pink sweatshirt, Dann walked into the blustery 22 degree on a mid-December morning to shoot her buffalo.

First, however, there was tradition to follow.

With other members of her family including her mother, sister, brother-in-law, uncles, cousins, and boyfriend, they prayed around a fire as the animals milled nearby, snow collecting on their shaggy coats. According to American Indian custom, they asked spirits to shine on them – and to bless the chosen buffalo about to give its life for their family.

Finally, Dann was ready. She’d practiced a day earlier with a rifle and long-range scope, with only mixed results.

This time, however, she lined up the animal’s neck in the crosshairs and squeezed the trigger.

The buffalo fell, and soon was surrounded by family members. They began cutting with knives on the buffalo’s underbelly, detaching its hide before making deep incisions into the body. Organs were extracted, followed by intestines and fat. Others worked to cut the buffalo meat into smaller sections.

They also kept the heart and liver, to be given to family members to cook and eat.

Dann was at first tearful, then elated.

“I was just trying to keep my mind clear and stayed focused on one thing,” she recalls. “I was like ‘Oh, my God.’ I started crying because it was exciting and happy for me. All of my energy all just came out when I saw it drop because it was only one shot. It was only one shot and I did it.”