The American buffalo, also known as bison, has always held great meaning for American Indian people. To Indian people, buffalo represent their spirit and remind them of how their lives were once lived, free and in harmony with nature. In the 1800's, the white-man recognized the reliance Indian tribes had on the buffalo. Thus began the systematic destruction of the buffalo to try to subjugate the western tribal nations. The slaughter of over 60 million buffalo left only a few thousand buffalo remaining.
Without the buffalo, the independent life of the Indian people could no longer be maintained. The Indian spirit, along with that of the buffalo, suffered an enormous loss. At that time, tribes began to sign treaties with the U.S. Government in an attempt to protect the land and the buffalo for their future generations. The destruction of buffalo herds and the associated devastation to the tribes disrupted the self-sufficient lifestyle of Indian people more than all other federal policies to date.
To reestablish healthy buffalo populations on tribal lands is to reestablish hope for Indian people. Members of Inter Tribal Bison Cooperative (ITBC) understood that reintroduction of the buffalo to tribal lands will help heal the spirit of both the Indian people and the buffalo.
Although some tribes and tribal members have been engaged in the production of buffalo for sale and/or for subsistence and cultural use, these activities have been conducted by each individual tribe, with little or no collaboration between tribes.
The InterTribal Bison cooperative was formed in 1990 to coordinate and assist tribes in returning the buffalo to Indian country. In February 1991, a meeting in the Black Hills of South Dakota, was hosted by the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society. It was obvious to everyone that the ITBC organization to assist tribes with their bison programs, was not only desired, but also necessary. With the hard work and dedication of the Society, Congress appropriated funding for tribal bison programs in June of 1991. This acton offered renewed hope that the sacred relationship between Indian people and the Buffalo might not only be saved, but would in time flourish.
The tribes again met in December 1991 to discuss how these appropriations would be spent. At this meeting, each tribe spoke of their plans and desires for buffalo herds and/or to help their existing bison herds expand and develop into successful, self-sufficient programs
In April of 1992 tribal representative gathered in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was at that meeting that the InterTribal Bison Cooperative (ITBC) officially became a recognized tribal organization. Officers were elected and began developing their criteria for membership, articles of incorporation, and by-laws.
In September of 1992, ITBC was incorporated in the state of Colorado and that summer ITBC was headquartered in Rapid City, South Dakota. ITBC was originally formed as a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization.
ITBC has a membership of 56 tribes in 19 states with a collective herd of over 15,000 bison. Membership of ITBC remains open and there is continued interest by non-member tribes in the organization. ITBC is committed to reestablishing buffalo herds on Indian lands in a manner that promotes cultural enhancement, spiritual revitalization, ecological restoration, and economic development.
ITBC has been reorganized as a federally chartered Indian Organization under Section 17 of the Indian Reorganization Act. This was approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2010. ITBC consists of a Membership that includes all the Tribes that have joined the organization and is governed by a Board of Directors, which is comprised of five elected officers and four regional representatives.
The role of the ITBC, as established by its membership, is to act as a facilitator in coordinating education and training programs, developing marketing strategies, coordinating the transfer of surplus buffalo from national parks to tribal lands, and providing technical assistance to its membership in developing sound management plans that will help each tribal herd become a successful and self-sufficient operation.
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