The Great Plains: a vast region of North America stretching from the northwestern region of Canada to Mexico; from the eastern slopes of the Rockies into the Midwestern states of the United States. To the early pioneers and settlers who moved into this region it was perceived as a desolate grassland which became mythologized as the Great American Desert: a forbidden place. For these people, who only knew of European livestock and crops, this was an unsupportive land; essentially a desert to cross to get to more promising and more familiar surrounds. But this region was far from unsupportive. It teamed with life. It supported many nations of Native Americans.
The Great Plains is home to a variety of flora and fauna. It hosts tallgrass in the east, short-grass in the west , mixed-grass in-between and medicinal plants such as yarrow and purple coneflower. Sparrows, grouse, meadow larks, prairie falcon, hawks and owls fly in its skies and nest in its grasses. Elk, pronghorn, coyote, wolves, grizzly bear, and other fauna roam and graze throughout this land.
Then there was Pte Oyate (Lakota language); the buffalo nation/people. The buffalo, or more precisely Bison bison- the North American buffalo (the words buffalo and bison are used interchangeably), spread out over this vast region and beyond as a great sea. When Lewis and Clark explored this region in the early 1800s, it is estimated the herds numbered around 23 to 26 million. This sea of brown reached from Alaska to Mexico; from the Great Basin of Nevada to Appalachia. But by the late 1800s, this sea had all but dried up. Estimates place about 800 buffalo on farms and ranches and another 23 found in Yellowstone when the slaughter was brought to an end. Though bison were killed off by the US Army in its war against the Plains Indians in an effort to remove their food supply, the vast majority of the buffalo were killed for economic reasons. Their hides were used for clothing and industrial belts (rubber had not been invented yet). Their bones ground up for fertilizer and their tongues considered a delicacy by people. And then there was just the sport, those who came to claim a trophy. But the extermination of the buffalo was not the only loss to the Great Plains. The buffalo and the diverse flora were replaced with a monoculture of crops and livestock foreign to the Great Plains, such as wheat , corn, and cattle; all of which, unsuited for the Great Plains. The diversity of flora and fauna had been lost; significantly contributing to such events as the Dust Bowl years. For the Great Plains is an ecosystem in which all flora and fauna are interconnected. With the loss of the buffalo, replacement with cattle, and the introduction of foreign crops, the ecosystem of the Great Plains had been significantly disrupted. One of the keystone species to that ecosystem is Pte Oyate, and to restore the Great Plains our brothers and sisters of that nation must be brought back. (continued to part 2)