Tears of joy as bison return to a Saskatchewan First Nation

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Tears of joy as bison return to a Saskatchewan First Nation

It was an emotional scene at Peepeekisis Cree Nation in Saskatchewan earlier this month when 20 bison emerged from trailers and bounded onto the snow-covered prairie.

There was no hesitation as they thundered across the ground. It was as if they knew they were finally home.

It was a dream fulfilled thanks to the efforts of the Balcarres-area First Nation and a local Christian group, Island Breeze Saskatchewan.  

"You can feel the feelings from the crowd," Peepeekisis spokesman Allan Bird told CBC News. "The emotions are very high. The faces are bright. The smiles that were on their faces. Even tears from some of our elders. Tears of joy."

The bison were donated by an Alberta rancher with a connection to Island Breeze. The plan is to increase the herd to 65 to 90 head over the next five years, then move the original group to another First Nation to repeat the process.

Bird sees the return of the bison after an absence of many decades as an important initiative for his community.

To people on Peepeekisis and other aboriginal people, bison (often called buffalo) aren't just livestock. They're sacred reminders of the past and a promise of a better future.

"The buffalo spirit is a very powerful spirit," Bird said. "Some of our members go out there and sit with them and watch them and sing some of our old songs, our ceremonial songs, to them."

Bird said the herd is also a reminder of the "modern day buffalo" — education — which is the means for people from Peepeekisis to find success in the world.

Days after the bison scampered across his peoples' land, he was still awestruck describing the release.

"It was so emotional," he said. "To me it was a spiritual feeling, a very strong spiritual feeling, where the buffalo were back to us."