In a year’s time, bison will once again roam the lands around Batoche, Sask., after an agreement between the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan and Parks Canada.
The MN-S signed a memorandum of understanding with the federal agency on Friday to transfer 24 bison from Grasslands National Park, in southwestern Saskatchewan, to the festival grounds at Batoche, about 80 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, near the end of 2023.
The return of the bison holds “enormous cultural significance” to Métis people, said the MN-S, which represents Métis citizens in Saskatchewan.
Hunting bison in the early days of the fur trade “allowed Métis people to develop land-based skills that are in practice today for many Métis families and provide economic stability,” the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan said in a Friday news release.
Métis Nation vice-president Michelle LeClair said the hope is for the herd to grow to 150 bison, which can be used for food and educational purposes.
“For us the value is going back to some of the traditional ways,” she said at a signing ceremony Friday.
“Food security is a big one. Being able to process the bison, all of those kinds of things become part of that cultural value.”
Young people will be able to learn hunting, harvesting and processing techniques from elders once the bison are back on Batoche lands, the Métis Nation said.
Earlier this year,the MN-S and the federal government came to an agreement to transfer 690 hectares of Batoche Historic Site lands to the Métis people of Saskatchewan.
Batoche, founded in 1872 by a Métis merchant, has “deep cultural, spiritual and historic significance” for Métis people in Saskatchewan, the federal government said in a statement announcing the agreement earlier this year.
The area was where, in May 1885, Métis leaders Louis Riel, Gabriel Dumont and a Métis provisional government made their last stand against armed federal government forces.
Some bison from the growing herd in Grasslands National Park will be moved to a portion of the Batoche lands that were transferred.
“In order to maintain herd health, every second year we translocate bison out of the park to maintain our target numbers of 500 to 650 bison individuals in the park,” said Parks Canada superintendent Genevieve Jones.
The Grasslands herd, which was established in 2005, has grown to 400 to 500 bison, and can now help establish new herds, according to Parks Canada.