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

SMOKY LAKE — The Metis 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 Metis Crossing from Elk Island National Park on Feb. 22, are part of an education and experience program led by the Metis Nation in partnership with the park.

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

“Although native to the Metis Crossing area, wild bison or ‘bufloo’ in Michif, were driven to near extinction by settlers in the nineteenth century, forcing Metis 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 Metis Crossing Wildlife Park, a cultural interpretive destination, once they get used to being around people.

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

She said they are vital to sharing the Metis story, because bison hunts were tradition and formed the bedrock of society. The gatherings led to the development of Metis 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 Metis 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.

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