Chico Her Many Horses showed off buffalo hide and a .50 calliber black powder gun to students at Hunting Day Wednesday in Ethete. Photo by Carl Cote.

Shawn O’Brate

ETHETE – On the reservation there are few things as important to the collective people than the idea of tradition and storytelling. Over the years, especially with the rise in technology, the art of storytelling and passing on traditional knowledge has waned a bit but on Wednesday the Wyoming Indian K-12 school decided to try to remedy that.

Early Wednesday morning the school began an all-day expo event for students from first grade all the way to seniors in high school. The expo was not only filled with all sorts of knowledge from organizations like NOLS and Game & Fish, but it was also from elders around the reservation and a real-life presentation of how to gut, clean and use a freshly-killed buffalo.

The buffalo was shot and killed by a farmer and donated to the school so students of all ages could learn how to retain as much meat as possible, how to keep as much hide as possible, and how their elders have used every aspect of the kill for different purposes.

“It’s a cultural learning opportunity for our students,” Elena Singer, the director of Wyoming Indian’s language and culture department said. “It’s so they have access to learn from our elders and our community members … things about our language, our hunting, safety and all sorts of other things.”

Throughout the day different grades traveled from station to station around the gym, learning about all the different facets that make up a buffalo hunt, from butchering and harvesting the mean, to using tanned hides for artwork and clothing.

Some of the presenters taught the kids about tracking and animal footprints, while others showed them how to provide first aid. There was a table dedicated to women in hunting, which featured three women with a large assortment of skulls and antlers to show that it’s no longer just the men that can hunt, like it was in the traditional way of things.

Children watched a buffalo be cleaned Wednesday at Wyoming Indian High School during the Hunting Day celebration. Photo by Carl Cote.

“My grandpa once said you don’t depend on anybody, you have the right to feed and provide for yourself,” one of the women said to help encourage the young girls to get into the spirit of hunting.

Outside the gymnasium, all throughout the morning, the freshly killed buffalo was being cleaned, gutted, preserved and skinned for students to learn the correct cutting technique as well as how to avoid puncturing things like the bile sack.

In the end, the day was meant for much more than the chance for kids to learn about buffalo hunting, but it was about tradition and how things used to be in the old days. One of the ways they learned that was through some elders who have grown up their whole life dedicating every day to storytelling and passing along what once was to the future.

“I got my stories from my uncle and my uncle got his from his grandfather,” Merle Haas, one of the storytellers, said between groups of children. “I love telling the stories because it seems like today what they learn in science, math and everything … this is kind of a new area to them because they don’t always have a storyteller at home, so it’s really interesting when their eyes just light up when you tell them about when the animals could talk.”

Finally, the middle table in the room was hosted by the Wind River Tribal Buffalo Initiative (WRTBI), a nonprofit that was started by Jason Baldes and aims to show the importance of the buffalo and why they need to be brought back into the realm of normal wildlife.

Rich Singer dug into the freshly harvested buffalo behind the Wyoming Indian High School Gym Wednesday in Ethete. Photo by Carl Cote.

“It’s important to let them know why we need buffalo here,” Hannah Nicol, Baldes’ daughter said. “The biodiversity is affected because there’s not enough buffalo to impact the environment … For instance, buffalo’s hooves are ridged and they aerate the soil when they walk, which helps seeds grow, and with a cow it’s flat and they squish the soil.”

That isn’t the only big difference between the ever-growing cattle population and the dwindling buffalo population. “A cow will graze all the way down to the root and take it all away. The buffalo will just trim the top and then move on and keep eating, they never take it down to the ground … so we’re stunting the plant’s growth,” Nicol continued.

So much more knowledge was on the table, literally and figuratively, for the students throughout the day. To learn more about what else was on display, and how the buffalo meat, ribs and other organs will be refurbished for the youth of Ethete, be sure to check out Thursday’s edition of Wind River News for the full story.