Secretarial Order Brings Life-Saving Bison Restoration to Indian Country and the Prairie Grassland

COLT Bison

 March 3, 2023 

Browning, Montana – The Coalition of Large Tribes, an inter-tribal organization representing the interests of the more than 50 Indian Tribes having reservations of 100,000 acres or more and 95% of the U.S. tribal land base, applauds Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s historic signature today of Secretarial Order No. 3410, Restoration of American Bison and the Prairie Grasslands

“COLT warmly welcomes this first step in restoring bison as a national resource managed by tribes. Secretarial Order 3410 shows wonderful leadership in prioritizing and funding bison restoration for tribal herds and giving Tribes a seat at the table in their national co-stewardship and management of a species central to Native American culture and our Nation’s history,” said COLT Chairman Marvin Weatherwax, a member of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council and the Montana House of Representatives. 

COLT was organized to provide a unified advocacy base on all issues affecting Tribes that govern large trust land bases and that strive to ensure the most beneficial use of those lands for Tribes and individual Indian landowners. Restoring bison to those lands is an important focus for many COLT tribes. 

“Secretarial Order 3410 puts tribes much closer to making their bison restoration goals a near-term reality by directing the National Park Service to develop a plan to expand quarantine opportunities at Yellowstone National Park, including tribal leadership and experienced Indian Affairs leadership in the Department’s Bison Working Group, prioritizing the establishment and expansion of tribal bison herds, and allocating unprecedented dollars that afford Great Plains / Rocky Mountain Tribes’ historic primary nutrition source—bison—something closer to equity and parity with the well-funded fisheries of the Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes. The Department’s historic funding for bison has been de minimus and today’s Secretarial Order starts to correct that historic inequity.” 

Chairman Weatherwax

COLT is also excited to see Secretarial Order’s expansion of opportunities ideally suited for the InterTribal Buffalo Council (like COLT, a federally chartered Indian organization under Section 17 of the Indian Reorganization Act), comprised of 79 Tribes across 20 states, which has received limited federal funding from the Department of Interior since 1992, to promote buffalo restoration to Tribes.

ITBC is tribally owned and governed, its priorities are tribally determined and driven, and the majority of funds allocated to ITBC are passed on directly to member Tribes in support of their buffalo programs. Today’s order opens the door to formalize the US Government’s commitment to restoration of buffalo, a traditional food source for many large land base Tribes, and to ensure on-going funding for sound buffalo management and advancing opportunities for Tribes to create jobs and a Tribal buffalo industry. 

COLT Vice Chairman Tracy “Ching” King, a member of the Fort Belknap Indian Community Council, also cheered today’s Secretarial Order, “We look forward to ITBC’s leadership to implement the Secretarial Order with Secretary Haaland and her senior leadership team. Buffalo are the foundation of our nutrition and many cultural practices. Their return is integral to the health and wellness of our people. Bison are healing to us at a time when we desperately need that healing, as we address the historical trauma of boarding schools, failed federal assimilation practices and the numerous social ills that have burdened us from those events. We cannot overstate how grateful COLT Tribes are for the Secretary’s continuing leadership in restoring and prioritizing tribal bison, because that is the path to so much good for our people. This Secretarial Order brings Traditional and Cultural Medicine back into our people’s lives.” 

COLT Executive Director OJ Semans, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, added that COLT stands ready to work the Department of the Interior and ITBC to ensure that the opportunities for bison restoration and management occasioned by today’s Secretarial Order are carried out in the best ways possible, working with state and local governments and farmers and ranchers with a focus on integrating sound science and intergovernmental cooperation with Indigenous Knowledge.

“COLT Tribes are ready to work with anyone and everyone on environmental and agriculture issues to implement Interior’s important Inflation Reduction Act investment in our Prairie Grassland ecosystems. The return and expansion of buffalo to our communities is a good thing for everyone, bringing back an anchor species, jobs, opportunity, and healthy foods. The investment in our grasslands, which can enhance soil development, restore native plants and wildlife, and promote carbon sequestration, will also provide benefits for agriculture, outdoor recreation, and Tribes. Lila wopila (much thanks), to all who made today’s Secretarial Order a reality and who will work to see it into action.” 

COLT Executive Director OJ Semans

Media Contacts: 

COLT Chairman Marvin Weatherwax – (406) 845-5477, 

COLT Vice Chairman Tracy Ching King – (406) 344-2019, 

COLT Executive Director OJ Semans – (605) 828-1422, 

Related Releases:

Interior Department Announces Significant Action to Restore Bison Populations as Part of New Restoration and Resilience Framework | U.S. Department of the Interior (