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GSC Teams Up with Ramapough Mountain Indian Center for All Ages Bison Harvest

Why host a Bison Harvest on the East Coast? Because Bison are Native here!

After many weeks of planning, we completed our first East Coast Bison Harvest with support from the Ramampough Mountain Indian Center. Over 100 Ramapough Munsee Lenape Indian Nation participants and allys showed up ready and willing to get their hands dirty. From the oldest to the youngest present, everyone got to enjoy an afternoon of food, family, and cultural connection. 

Some people have asked us, why host a Bison harvest event on the East Coast? While many may not be aware, prior to the colonization of Turtle Island, Bison roamed from New York, down into Mexico and up into Canada. This natural migration process of approximately 60 million Bison was permanently disrupted by the arrival of settlers and has yet to be restored. Around 1870, a mass slaughtering of Bison was ordered by the federal government in an attempt to destroy Indigenous food systems and starve Natives into submission. US Colonel Richard Irving Dodge is claimed to have said:

“Kill every buffalo you can! Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.”

In the aftermath of the slaughter, around 100-500 wild Bison remained. In recent years, efforts to reintroduce wild Bison herds have been a positive step towards reclaiming Indigenous food sovereignty and ecological practices, but addressing the ongoing impacts of the Bison genocide remains a critical challenge. Today, only 31,000 wild Bison remain, while an impressive number given they are the descendants of a couple hundred Bison, it's nowhere near the original estimated figures of 60-80 million. The restoration of Bison herds and knowledge is an essential step towards restoring the ecological balance on Turtle Island. 

GSC is proud to support Indigenous Food Sovereignty through our events and partner with local communities to restore what was lost. Our Bison meat harvest was spearheaded by Poppy Jones of the Narragansett Nation, a friend and long-time supporter of the Ramapough community. He spent weeks doing research and connecting with friends in the community in preparation for his role. As he reflected on the event, he said:

"People were healing wounds! Families that hadn't spoken in years were shaking hands. There were tears flowing all around; spirit was with us. This is good medicine - seeing everyone just focused... wow. It was an over the top sucess!" 

Elder Marcella "Marty" Perrano was deeply moved by the opening ceremony, she reflects:

"I couldn't wait for the day to begin! When the Bison arrived you could feel the excitement and all those gathered felt it as well. During the ceremony, I closed my eyes and let my prayer rise with everyone else's. It was new to me and It was sacred and it was something I will never forget. The Bison was brought here for us to reconnect to it, for they roamed here on the East Coast many years ago. Many tribal members didn't know that, nor did I."

I was able to attend Marty's class and it was so beautiful to witness all the children connecting with the story of the three sisters and baby corn. Marty even showed the many tools involved in preparing corn and farming. After the class, the children enjoyed making cornhusk dolls and drawings while enjoying snacks that contained the three sisters!  She sent us a message reflecting on her time:

"I wanted the children to understand how The Three Sisters connects to all aspects of our culture. I displayed different foods and objects (deer antler rake and a deer shoulder blade hoe; garden tools) that our ancestors used and ate. Nothing is wasted. I also took them on an imaginary tour of the places on the mountain that our people went to and gathered different foods. I did that because some of the attendees had moved away from the mountain, but their parents grew up here and it was good for them to know. Time wouldn't allow me to cook the food that day, so I cooked at home and did a show n' tell. If they wanted the recipes, they were free to take a photo. I also connected with the children and told them a corn legend and had them make corn husk dolls. They were also free to grind corn in an old mortar and pestle. My hope was to instill pride in who they are and  who our ancestors were.  I had a table displayed with Buffalo objects so that everyone could see that nothing is wasted in our culture and everything is connected. It was the same with the food table. 

It was a wonderful day for me and I hope it will be a great learning experience for the children. Aho!"

Thank you to Vincent, Charlene, Petra, Marty, and Poppy for working closely with us to ensure the event was a success! Head over to the RMI Center Facebook page to see some images and videos of the event, they write: 

"We had an incredible time today hosting First Foods Program Bison Harvest where tribal members participated in a ceremonial bison butchering, food teachings and corn husk doll workshop by Ramapough elder Marcella "Marty" Perrano. Anushiik to our partners Grinding Stone Collective and First Foods for working with us to organize this event and making sure our members got to go home with fresh bison."

Special thank you to the Eastern Bison Association for helping us source a Bison for the harvest. 

As always, we thank our sponsors, Mellon Foundation, Urban Indian Health Institute, and The Riverside Church Densford Fund, for making this event possible. We could not create amazing food Sovereignty events without them. 

Stay tuned for our follow-up Bison Hide and Bone event! 

Feb 1, 2024

Alexandria Cruz

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