Bison Range "restoration" means stories of the past, as well as vision of future

Bison Range Sign
Bison Range Visitor Center Display
CSKT Tom McDonald
Posted at 5:32 PM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-19 19:32:13-04

MOIESE - Tribal members will gather this week to celebrate a restoration of the Bison Range more than a century after the lands and the herds were taken.

Decades of debate, cooperation, lawsuits, and planning over the Bison Range finally concluded in December, when the Montana Water Rights Act transferred the nearly 19,000 acres back to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, 114 years after the refuge was established to save bison.

"The importance of restoration of tribal lands just can't be overstated. So, if you talk about a chunk of the Reservation -- in the heart of the Reservation -- being taken from the Tribes without their consent for it; you know good purpose, absolutely good purpose. “Because, as you know, the last remaining conservation herds of buffalo in North America were here on the Flathead Reservation before the Allotment Act for the Reservation occurred," commented CSKT Tribal Chairman Tom McDonald. "So, buffalo were here. It was over 1,000 buffalo here and they were forced to be removed. So, to have that happen, and then have a taking of the Reservation for the purpose of bringing those buffalo back. It's kind of ironic."

Bison Range Sign

It's ironic, and fascinating — with new exhibits explaining the fortuitous story of how a father and son's idea of bringing a few orphaned calves across the Divide likely saved bison, and the Tribes' history. It’s a corridor from the past creating a place where refuge is just as important today.

"Wildlife needs movement corridors. Animals need a chance to adapt, especially when you think about climate change that's hitting us so hard. You really gotta step back and give wildlife some space and be able to give them that chance to be able to find that new home or move to that new home,” McDonald said. “It's a change. It's a paradigm in what they need to do. Just as we as humans do to earn a living. So, the other thing is being able to combine resources. Be able to provide a better management of this facility because we have other resources now, we can bring to the table that weren't available under the US Fish and Wildlife Service Management."

CSKT Tom McDonald
CSKT Tribal Chairman Tom McDonald

McDonald says the restoration of the range comes at a very important time, with many more people moving to Montana.

"They want to understand the legacy of the tribes and the stewardship they've had over the lands. They really want to know more about the resources they really want to know. You know the lifecycle of this plant or this species. They wanna know the story of the people who've been here for 10,000 years. They want to know that it puts a sense of place to Montana certainly puts a sense of place to the Indigenous people and native people here," McDonald concluded.

The Tribes will hold a "Tribal Member and Community Day" on Friday, May 20 to celebrate the changeover, and explain the cultural significance of the switch with a celebration powwow from 12 p.m. until 4 p.m. Then on Saturday, the celebration will move to the Salish Kootenai College in Pablo with a day full of events, food, and presentations. And entrance fees to the Bison Range will be half price on Sunday.

Bison Range Visitor Center Display
A display in the newly renovated Bison Range Visitors Center

Bison Range Restoration Celebration Schedule of Events
(May 20 - May 22, 2022)

  • Friday, May 20, 2022 (At the Bison Range - Moiese, MT)
    • Tribal Member/Community Opening Ceremony @ 10am
    • Opening prayer, Honor Song, Honor Guard, Veterans Warrior Society
    • Lunch provided from 11:30 am-12:30 pm
    • Powwow 12-4 pm
    • Native Games throughout the day
  • Saturday, May 21, 2022 (At the Salish Kootenai College - Pablo, MT)
    • Film Screening: In the Spirit of Atatice @2:00pm
    • Johnny Arlee & Vic Charlo Theatre
    • Community Meal @2:30pm
    • Joe McDonald Health & Fitness Center
    • Film Screening: In the Spirit of Atatice @3:00pm
    • Johnny Arlee & Vic Charlo Theatre
    • Community Celebration @4:00pm
    • Joe McDonald Health & Fitness Center Gymnasium
  • Sunday, May 22, 2022 (At the Bison Range - Moiese, MT)
    • Community Appreciation Day
    • Half price day passes available

More information at