Unlike retiring Senator Timothy Johns (R-31/Lead), Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert (D-26/Mission) hasn’t been arrested for drunk driving. But like his Lead colleague, Heinert plans to step away from the Legislature after the 2022 Session and work in the private sector:
Heinert accepted a position as Executive Director of the Intertribal Buffalo Council.
“I’m termed out of the Senate anyway, I wasn’t going to run for the House. So it was: run for Governor, US Senator, or the US House. This position came before me, I really believe in its mission and its cause. We have 76 member Tribes clear across the country. We help restore buffalo back to tribal lands. We’re shipping Yellowstone buffalo that have been in quarantine for three years. It’s no small feat to get a live buffalo out of Yellowstone,” said Heinert [link added, Beth Warden, “South Dakota Minority Leader Heinert Passes on Run for Governor, Joining Private Sector After Term,” KSFY, 2021.12.16].
The Intertribal Buffalo Council started 30 years ago with a meeting of nineteen tribes in the Black Hills, with the culturally profound aim of restoring the sacred beast of the plains that we white colonizers slaughtered to crush the indigenous tribes:
Bison (Bison bison), or as commonly referred to by Tribal people “buffalo”, has always held great meaning for the American 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 buffalo as a means to subjugate western Tribal nations. The slaughter of over 60 million buffalo left only a few thousand buffalo remaining in the world.
Without buffalo, the independent life of Tribal 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 US government in an attempt to protect the land and the buffalo for their future generations. The destruction of the buffalo herds, and the associated devastation to the tribes, disrupted the self-sufficient lifestyle of Tribal 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 the InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC) understood that reintroduction of the buffalo to tribal lands will help heal the spirit of both the Indian people and the buffalo [Intertribal Buffalo Council, “Our History,” organizational website, retrieved 2021.12.17].
Heinert was on NPR last weekend talking about the importance of preserving Yellowstone buffalo:
SCOTT SIMON, HOST: More than 5,000 bison roam Yellowstone National Park. That’s too many, according to the National Park Service. Nine hundred of these bison will be culled – hunted or caught and slaughtered. A small number will be relocated this winter as part of an agreement reached by wildlife officials and tribal entities. Troy Heinert is executive director of the InterTribal Buffalo Council, also a member of the Rosebud Sioux Nation, and joins us now from Nevada. Thanks so much for being with us.
TROY HEINERT: Well, thank you for having me on.
SIMON: This is because of the threat of a disease, I gather.
HEINERT: Well, it’s a threat of the disease, but it’s also about restoring, you know, wild buffalo to tribal nations. That’s what ITBC’s main focus on because we know our tribes have the capability to manage and grow those herds and, you know, get the pristine genetics that Yellowstone buffalo have.
SIMON: Well, tell us about that and what your hope is.
HEINERT: Well, Yellowstone buffalo are the cornerstone of the species. They’re the last free-roaming wild buffalo that go back to the same buffalo that our ancestors followed and made their life from. So tribes are very interested in keeping that species alive and that genetic alive and bringing it into their own tribal herds, and as well as the spiritual and cultural connections that we have to those buffalo.
SIMON: Well, tell us about that.
HEINERT: The Lakota people and then ITBC, which has 76 member tribes, all have a unique connection with buffalo. Buffalo was our main food source. It was shelter. It was tools, weapons. But it was also more about learning. Our young men watched buffalo and saw how the males protected the cows and the calves. And it gave us a sense of resilience. You know, we view the buffalo as a relative, and we try to treat them as such. And many tribes have their own ceremonies and songs as it pertains to buffalo [Scott Simon, “There Are Too Many Bison in Yellowstone. Some Will Be Relocated to Tribal Nations,” NPR via CAP Radio, 2021.12.11].
Heinert is doing important work to remediate the white man’s destruction of this continent’s native biome and culture. Now if we can just find some hearty Democrats to take up Heinert’s work in combatting the Whitopian GOP‘s war against democracy.