Commentary

It’s time to bring Big Medicine home

June 20, 2022 4:45 am

The entry grounds to the Montana Historical Society (Photo by Eric Seidle for the Daily Montanan).

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes held their Bison Range Restoration Celebration May 20-22, 2022, which was a monumental day that represented the righting of a terrible time in our U.S. history by restoring and honoring a broken treaty and returning the land and bison back to the CSKT.

This monumental day was a day of healing, but it also represented the continued need for healing with all of our Montana tribes and the need to restore and honor many of the broken promises once made. And even though this special day celebrated a major piece that was missing for the Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreille people, there still remains a huge void with Big Medicine missing and sitting at the Montana Historical Society in Helena, Montana.

Big Medicine was born in 1933 and lived at the National Bison Range on the Flathead Indian Reservation and was a true white bison, not an albino bison, who lived to age 26. He was a one-in-a-million birth and a physical representation of the bison herd’s spiritual significance to the Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreille people as he was considered a special gift from the creator and represented the centralizing of the spiritual power of the buffalo and his birth came at a time where Indian people were reeling from the horrific U.S. removal and assimilation policy eras and still suffering from the impacts of the great depression. Big Medicine gave people hope and brought forth much needed healing.

It is only fitting, to now, bring this healing full circle by  bringing Big Medicine back to his people, his herd, and to his home. CSKT members had the vision to bring bison across the divide to help save them from extinction, the ancestors to which Big Medicine was born. Bison have given our native people life and they are intertwined in our DNA. We understand the importance of bison which have a special significance with all of our Montana tribes.

Pend d’Oreille Tribal Elder, Steven Small Salmon, put it bluntly in his interview with KPAX where he recalled seeing Big Medicine as a child. He said, “[T]hey said he’s in Helena now. And that kind of made me mad. Today for 20 years I’ve been asking for them to bring it back here. I’d say, hey, we need The White Buffalo back here.”

The Montana Historical Society and the State of Montana now have a unique opportunity to facilitate another important round of healing by returning Big Medicine home.

Signed on the behalf of the following members of the Montana American Indian Caucus:

Sen. Shane A. Morigeau
Sen. Susan Webber
Sen. Jason Small
Sen. Mike Fox
Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy
Rep. Frank Smith
Rep. Tyson Running Wolf
Rep. Sharon Stewart Peregoy
Rep. Marvin Weatherwax
Rep. Donavon Hawk
Rep. Rynalea Whiteman Pena

The American Indian Caucus is a group of Montana Legislators representing the state’s Indian County.

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