Bison herd coming to Grand Portage as food sovereignty effort continues
Kalli Hawkins

Bison herd coming to Grand Portage as food sovereignty effort continues

Bison will be brought to the Grand Portage Reservation this week, part of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s continued effort to create a healthy, affordable and local food option for the community.

The Grand Portage Environmental Department has been working toward the creation of a bison ranch within the reservation for more than a decade. The bison are scheduled to arrive to Grand Portage on Tuesday, April 11.

“The Bizhikiwag project has been in the works for several years, we’re very excited that the day has finally arrived,” Tribal Chair Bobby Deschampe told WTIP April 10. “This will be the start of a sustainable healthy food source for our community.”

In 2010, several meetings with the Grand Portage Tribal Council and the Grand Portage Trust Lands office indicated a positive interest in developing a bison ranching project in Grand Portage, according to a document titled “Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa: Creative Solutions for a Changing Environment.”

Subsequently, the Grand Portage Environmental Department submitted a proposal for a grant to help fund startup of the bison ranching project. The bison arriving April 11 will be kept at the Grand Portage Bizhiki Ranch on Old Highway 61. They will be kept inside the ranch with an electric fence. Cameras will be on site for added security, according to tribal officials.

Bison did not historically roam northeastern Minnesota, but rising temperatures in and around Lake Superior in recent years suggest that climate change is taking effect around Grand Portage and is threatening local wildlife species, according to the 2012 document. One of the Grand Portage Band’s major concerns is that climate change may lead to the loss of culturally significant subsistence species, including moose.

The tribe hopes that by investing in mitigation projects it can accomplish environmental and natural resources goals, achieve energy and food independence, and reduce expenses to community members. Included in this approach is to bring a bison herd to Grand Portage.

According to tribal officials, grass-fed bison are a great fit for Grand Portage Band for several reasons:

  • Bison meat is naturally very low in fat and very high in protein.
  • Bison meat is similar to moose and is recommended by doctors as a healthy alternative to conventional (corn fed) beef.
  • Bison are very hardy animals – they thrive even in extremely cold conditions and require minimal shelter.

The Grand Portage Band has a focus on food sovereignty, which is the inherent right to define its own food system with traditional culture and historical context.

The goal is to provide access to healthy, affordable and sustainable food for all members of the community. WTIP first reported on this about six years ago when the Grand Portage Band formed the Community Agriculture Through Culture, Health and Education (CACHE) project. The focus of the CACHE project nowadays has shifted to food sovereignty, which essentially means harvesting and growing food from the Grand Portage Reservation that is then shared within the community.

American plains bison once ranged freely across nearly all of the Midwest, essentially everywhere except for northeastern Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Overhunting and mass slaughtering of the animals eliminated tens of millions of bison during the late 1800s — a near extinction. So many died that all American plains bison living today come from fewer than 100 survivors, according to the DNR.

There are currently around 370,000 bison in North America, most of them raised as part of the livestock-to-table industry.

All modern bison have some cattle DNA, according to the DNR.