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Métis Nation of Alberta marks historic return of bison to traditional lands

Community calling the move a milestone in reconciliation
Bison are shown at Metis Crossing Wildlife Park in Alberta are shown in a handout photo.The Métis Nation of Alberta says the arrival of 20 wood bison at Métis Crossing was a historic moment for its citizens. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Olivia Bako/Metis Nation of Alberta

The Métis Nation of Alberta says the arrival of 20 wood bison at a site northeast of Edmonton is a milestone for reconciliation.

The bison, which were transported to Métis Crossing from Elk Island National Park on Feb. 22, are part of an education and experience program led by the Métis Nation in partnership with the park.

“This is a historic moment for Métis citizens in Alberta,” president Audrey Poitras said Monday in a news release.

“Although native to the Métis Crossing area, wild bison or ‘bufloo’ in Michif, were driven to near extinction by settlers in the nineteenth century, forcing Métis bison hunts to a halt.

“The return of bison to this area marks a milestone in reconciliation.”

The 15 cows and five young bulls will be released into the Métis Crossing Wildlife Park, a cultural interpretive destination, once they get used to being around people.

“Bison are absolutely foundational to who we are as Métis people,” said Juanita Marois, CEO of Métis Crossing.

She said they are vital to sharing the Métis story, because bison hunts were tradition and formed the bedrock of society. The gatherings led to the development of Métis democratic and judicial systems, she added.

The wood bison will join an existing herd of 48 animals, which are part of a partnership with a local rancher, in five different paddocks at Métis Crossing, about 55 kilometres northeast of Elk Island and 120 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

“This is the first time we have our very own,” said Marois.

It happened, she said, after three years of talks with Elk Island National Park.

The national park, which is considered one of the world’s best bison conservation facilities, is home to about 400 plains bison and 300 wood bison. It sends its surplus bison to support projects in other conservation sites, Indigenous communities and to private herds.

—The Canadian Press