The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Pueblo of Pojoaque will co-host a conference to advance a bold vision: rewilding the North American continent with the American bison. The 6th Triennial American Bison Society (ABS) Conference and Workshop kicks off on October 28 in Pojoaque, New Mexico and will bring together thought leaders including Native American Tribes and First Nations, along with conservationists, political leaders, and ranchers from across the bison’s range – all around the shared goal of the ecological and cultural restoration of bison.

The 2019 ABS ‘Bison on the Edge’ conference will explore the ways in which bison exist on the periphery of wildlife conservation. The conference will highlight the growing role of First Nations and Tribes in bison restoration, the challenge of conserving a wide-ranging species at the edge of their historic range, cutting-edge genetic tools and analyses for bison management, and the role art and culture play in catalyzing social change.

The American bison once numbered around 30 million in North America and traveled in awe-inspiring herds up to 20 miles long. Their sheer numbers alone shaped the ecology of the North American landscape as well as the cultures, identities, and mythos of the West. Buffalo were also foundational to the spiritual and economic lives of First Peoples in what is now known as North America. However, in the early 1900’s massive overhunting and changes in land use pushed bison to the brink of extinction until fewer than 1,100 remained.

ABS was formed in 1905 by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) first director, William Hornaday, President Theodore Roosevelt, and other pioneering conservationists, politicians, and ranchers to prevent the extinction of bison. This early campaign to restore bison – including 15 animals from WCS’s Bronx Zoo – to several sites across the American West, evolved into the first major wildlife conservation success in U.S. history. While ABS succeeded in preventing the extinction of bison – now the U.S. National Mammal – recovering this keystone species to its critical ecological and cultural role mandates the co-creation of a restoration strategy at the continental scale. This will be the key outcomes of the 2019 ABS Conference.

For the first time in its history, ABS will meet in the American Southwest at the the Hilton Santa Fe Buffalo Thunder, a Tribally-owned property that underscores the deep ties between Indigenous Peoples and bison. The Southwest is often overlooked for bison conservation and restoration though it holds great potential and numerous rewilding programs are underway.

Said Cristina Mormorunni, Regional Director of WCS’s Rockies Program: “By hosting the 2019 ABS conference and workshop in New Mexico, we aim to draw attention to bison restoration opportunities in the Southwest, lay the foundation for new vital partnerships across the continent, and inspire people from diverse cultures in the West to recognize the bison as an enduring and unifying symbol of the Northern American landscape.”

Said Pueblo of Pojoaque Governor Joe Talachy: “The Bison and Indigenous Peoples across North America have been inextricably linked for millennia. Bison have sustained us as food, shelter, and clothing, and they have deep a cultural and spiritual significance. We look forward to working with our partners elevate an Indigenous-led vision for the cultural and ecological restoration of buffalo throughout their former range.”

The conference will serve as a platform for honoring the Buffalo Treaty and National Bison Day with field visits, art and storytelling, and cultural celebrations.

Said Roger Fragua, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Flower Hill Institute, a Native-owned, community-directed nonprofit which is helping organize a Buffalo Dance at the conference: “Since the beginning of time, Indigenous peoples of the North American continent and the winged, finned, and four-legged have always had a respectful symbiotic relationship. Central to that relationship is honoring in ceremony. For only the second time in 100 years four distinct Pueblo’s will come together under one song and four separate dance groups that will honor the Buffalo. This is not a performance or a show, rather, it is a true ceremonial in respect of the conversations and deliberations about extending and honoring Buffalo.”

ABS is a weeklong event that includes two days of topical sessions presented by experts in bison ecology, restoration, and production, a meeting of the IUCN Bison Specialist Group, and field trips. The week will conclude with National Bison Day celebration on Saturday, November 2nd centered in an Inter-Tribal Buffalo Dance and the creation of a community art installation that will then travel to bison communities to share the conservation vision emerging from the Conference.

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The Pueblo of Pojoaque Bison Program

The Bison Program started in 1994 with three bison calves grazing on less than three acres. Now the herd has nearly 100 genetically diverse, wild bison roaming over 5400 acres. Pojoaque is the first Tribe in the United States to graze bison on federal land, on the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge north of Las Vegas. Rio Mora is the center of a unique partnership between the Pueblo of Pojoaque, Highlands University, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Denver Zoo grounded in a shared vision for bison conservation. Bison is also critical for cultural restoration and the Pueblo of Pojoaque manages their bison for the cultural, spiritual and overall well-being of their community as well as for other Tribes in the region, readily supplying bison for ceremony. Contact: Joe Talachy, Governor, Pueblo of Pojoaque, (505) 629-6659

Flower Hill Institute

Flower Hill is a native-owned, community-directed nonprofit, whose objectives include preserving and enhancing cultural resources, preparing youth to inherit leadership, improving economic self-sufficiency, organizing inter-tribal movements, and improving climate change resiliency.

Contact: Roger Fragua, Co-Founder & Executive Director, (720) 220-7720  or Joseph Brophy Toledo, Co-Founder & Cultural Advisor (505) 382-9589