Where the 'mashkode bizhiki' roam
GONVICK, Minn.—A snowy, wooded patch of farmland 10 miles north of Gonvick was largely empty on Thursday, but Cherilyn Spears and Henry Donnell, Sr., have a vision for it.
They and other Red Lake Nation staff plan to reintroduce a "seed" herd of plains buffalo there next fall, phase one of a four-year project they hope will have cascading cultural, economic and health benefits for the Ojibwe band and its members.
Spears, a project coordinator for Red Lake Economic Development and Planning, supervises the project and handles its financial side. Donnell is an area bison rancher who's set to oversee the farm's day-to-day operations and the installation of a new fence there, among other accommodations for the massive animals.
The short-term goal is an 80-acre paddock for about 30 bison—"mashkode bizhiki" in Ojibwemowin—of varying ages, but Spears and Donnell plan to expand it into a 560-acre pasture with dozens and dozens of bison that doubles as an economic and cultural hub. They're thinking tourism; field trips; youth programming; trails; cultural tours; Airbnb stays; meat and jerky sales; and an interpretive center that highlights tribal history, stories, knowledge and traditional dietary practices—but that's not even half of a long list they brainstormed last winter as the project got rolling.
Kade Ferris, tribal archaeologist for Red Lake Nation, speaks about the buffalo farm on Thursday at the Red Lake Nation Government Center. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)
"At the first meeting it became more than just a buffalo farm," Spears said.
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