Using cultural monitoring to understand bison in Banff National Park


The Stoney Nakoda First Nations are combining traditional knowledge with “Western” science to create a more holistic understanding of the bison reintroduction in Mînî Rhpa Mâkoche, also known as Banff National Park, in Canada.

In 2017, 16 bison were released in the northeast section of Banff National Park. This herd has since grown to over 60 animals roaming throughout the reintroduction area. Although Parks Canada has been monitoring the ecological impacts of this reintroduction, there has been little to no cultural monitoring data until now. Cultural monitoring can be used to better understand bison herd dynamics, predator-prey relationships, and to better describe the renewed connection to the land by the Stoney Nakoda Nations.

Thanks to an Indigenous-led research collaboration with Mount Royal University and the University of British Columbia funded by the Canadian Mountain Network, a member of the Mountain Partnership, the Stoney Nakoda Nations have published a new report on their findings on the Bison Cultural Project. The project was conducted by the Stoney Consultation Team of the Stoney Tribal Administration, along with Stoney Nakoda Elders, knowledge keepers and youth. The report includes recommendations for collaborations between Parks Canada and the Stoney Nakoda to ensure the continued success of the bison reintroduction programme, and for cooperative management of the bison herd, ensuring genetic viability, habitat effectiveness and overall ecosystem health.

The Stoney Nakoda applied their standardized cultural monitoring process, which included ceremony, planning, elder interviews, fieldwork, Elder reconnection, report writing and outreach to describe the cultural impacts of the bison reintroduction. William Snow, investigator on this project and Acting Director of Consultation for the Stoney Nakoda Tribal Administration, said, “The approach brings together the best of 'Western' science and traditional knowledge to further an understanding of what it means for bison to again roam freely in Mînî Rhpa Mâkoche.”

This project is not only providing an understanding of Bison habitat, behaviour and practices, from a traditional knowledge perspective. It is also helping the Stoney Nakoda reconnect to their traditional lands, migration routes, camping sites, and hunting and gathering areas within Mînî Rhpa Mâkoche.

The Stoney Nakoda have been in the Rocky Mountain region since time immemorial and bison were once the centre of the plains landscape ecosystem and central to Indigenous Peoples’ lives. Stoney Nakoda subsistence and cultural and spiritual practices were and are still intimately tied to the bison and this landscape. However, due to overexploitation, habitat loss and disease, bison were nearly extirpated from the Alberta plains. Moreover, when Banff National Park was created, Indigenous People were removed and kept out of the new park.

The Bison Cultural Project not only offers traditional knowledge related to bison in mountain landscapes, but also suggests a method for implementing the 11 important report recommendations. In this way, the report is a stepping stone to action, rather than another report on a shelf.

Projects such as this are an integral part of Truth and Reconciliation and demonstrate how traditional ecological knowledge can be woven with “Western” science to define a more holistic approach to conservation.

Visit the project website
Download the report
Read more

News by the Canadian Mountain Network

Photo: ©Jonathan Mast/Unsplash

Home > mountain-partnership > News