Yellowstone was at the crossroads of trade routes for many tribes in prehistory. This year, hunting buffalo outside the park was opened up to tribes like ours that once “went to the buffalo” across the continental divide.
Aspiring to be tukéyteweet–buffalo hunter—family groups of hunters have been taking the trip to Gardiner, Montana, outside Yellowstone and returning with bison. They report that the hunt was not overly challenging because they got their kills close to an access road outside the park. Nevertheless one young hunter said he was excited just to be on the trip with the anticipation of hunting bison. Filling out paperwork and sitting through a class couldn’t dampen the anticipation. Now he is tukéyteweet, hunter of buffalo.
At the time this particular Nixyáawiipuu party went, there were some Indians protesting outside the park about the hunting. There were also some Montana Indians there hunting buffalo for the first time. Those Indians were using shells with less than 100 grain and had to shoot the animal seven times to kill it. Then the Montana Indians found themselves in an unfortunate place, at the bottom of a canyon. Luckily for them, the Nixyáawiipuu helped them tow their kill for five hours in three feet of snow. Our household was gifted with a buffalo heart. It was simmered for several hours, then it was baked with stuffing—tasnix! Qeciyéewyew, thanks for keeping us alive because our ribs have been sticking out.
There is a painted buffalo hide in the Tamástslikt museum Travel & Trade case that came from a local family whose ancestors “went to the buffalo” on Kuséyne’ishkit, the (eastern) buffalo trail. The hunters and their families would stay in Montana for months and even years, processing the meat and hides. It’s even said that was when polygamy took an uptick in our culture, because the hunters needed more than one wife to do the work. I recall hearing about a place name where a stretch of country in our homeland was likened to the thick neck part of a buffalo hide when it bunches up. The buffalo—qóqalx, tsúuthlim (bull)—was a creature too generous for its own good, supplying many needs, resulting in its own dwindling. Its fate was unlike our local creatures who were promised the reward of reproducing plentifully if they took care of the Indians.