A herd of bison returned to Pelican Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan this month, bringing hope to the community.
Loko Koa, a Saskatchewan-based Samoan organization, teamed up with the relief organization Tearfund to gift 22 bison to the community, which is located about 185 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.
"It is important that they return to our community because they will also help our youth and the generations to come, because of the trials they are going through due to the distraction of drugs and alcohol," Chief Peter Bill said.
"They will be able to partake in ceremonies and get strength from the bison to overcome the obstacles they are facing."
The hope is to build the herd up to 300 to sustain the community. Once that happens, Pelican Lake First Nation and other communities will pay it forward by gifting bison to another nearby community.
Loko Koa has previously helped bring bison to Peepeekisis Cree Nation, Zagime Anishinabek, and Cote First Nation.
Knowledge keeper Charles Rabbitskin stands between FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron, left, and Pelican Lake First Nation Chief Peter Bill at the celebration for the bison release. (Wayne Johnson/Tearfund via CBC News)
Knowledge keeper Charles Rabbitskin said that he was told Loko Koa began donating bison in an act of reconciliation after learning about how the animals were lost due to colonialism.
It is estimated that as many as 50 million bison once roamed across the Prairies of North America, and were central to life for many First Nations communities. By the early 1900s, they were on the brink of being wiped out on the continent after being killed for sport, profit and military gain by settlers and governments.
Cheers and laughter erupted as the first five of 22 bison were released onto Pelican Lake First Nation. (Wayne Johnson/Tearfund via CBC News)
"We lost our identity, we lost our freedom, our sacredness. We lost our kinship," Rabbitskin said.
Now that the bison have returned to the community, Rabbitskin said they bring a positive, sacred energy that can cut through the chaos or inner turmoil that families may be struggling through due to intergenerational trauma caused by residential schools.
"One of the ceremonies we do with the buffalo, the first thing that comes to mind is kinship," Rabbitskin said.
Rabbitskin said he is hopeful that the herd will bring families and the community together and teach younger generations traditional teachings.
"When we bring back the buffalo, they have something to look forward to and in the future, they can use the meat, use the hide, use about everything on a buffalo," Rabbitskin said.
WATCH | Bison relocation a historic moment for The Key First Nation community:
This article, written by Samanda Brace, was originally published for CBC News Nov 15, 2023. Contains files from The Morning Edition.