STONEY NAKODA – A class of Grade 5 students from Nakoda Elementary School was the latest school group to get a chance to learn about the biological, ecological, historical and cultural importance of bison, an animal that was recently reintroduced to Banff National Park.
Organized by the Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley, the 45-minute program has visited seven schools and 60 classrooms throughout the region and by the end of the year more than 1,000 students will have participated.
“It’s a good hands-on program. Students learn way better with experiential learning,” said Elizabeth Loewen, a Grade 6 teacher at Morley Community School.
“It’s been really good for them because there’s no bison in the area, so it’s been a great reintroduction into what’s happening in the national park and it connects with their culture.”
During the presentation students learned about the history of buffalo, also referred to as bison, which at one time roamed across North America in the millions.
With the arrival of Europeans in the late 19th century the bison population was nearly wiped out, leaving less than 1,000 remaining in the wild.
Today, bison are mainly found within human confines, such as Elk Island National Park, however in February 2017 Parks Canada reintroduced 16 bison to Panther Valley in Banff National Park.
After two successful breeding seasons the herd now consists of 32 animals and is roaming a 1,200 square kilometre reintroduction zone.
During the presentation on Nov. 8, the Grade 5 students also learned about the biology of the keystone species, like how the animals’ digestive system works, including getting the opportunity to hold a replica bison patty and some of the animals’ bones. They also learned about the animals’ impact on the landscape.
Beyond the scientific objectives of the program, it is also designed to provide an in-depth review of the cultural and spiritual relationship between local First Nations and buffalo by deepening connections and understanding between students, teachers, elders and community members throughout the Bow Valley.
“For First Nation people education is the new buffalo,” said Christopher Pegram, a cultural educator for Nakoda Elementary School.
“At one time First Nation people relied on the buffalo for food, clothing, shelter, tools, medicine and lodging. Today First Nation people know the importance of education and how it will sustain our people, as the buffalo have.”
A statement from a group of elders following the program underscored this significance.
“Since time immemorial, the bison has been the lifeblood of First Nations. Waka, the Creator, sustained Frist Nations through the bison’s sacrifice in order for the nations to live. Therefore respect the bison is all its greatness.”
Email re[email protected] for more information about the program.