Tribe holds annual bison round up ahead of winter 

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Southern Ute tribal member, Kristean Velasquez, holds her young daughter Scarlett Rodriguez while offering advice to one of the younger students, Jayceon Richards. Student took turns skinning the large bull bison as part of their cultural field trip.
Sibrya Larry and her sister, O’Hozhoni take part in a field trip hosted by the Southern Ute Indian Montessori Academy to participate in the Wildlife Divisions annual Field Dressing Workshop.
Southern Ute elder, Ernest “Muz” Pinnecoose explains the careful process of cleaning an animal harvested in the field.
SUIMA Curriculum Specialist Daisy Bluestar keeps watch over her son, while he practices skinning the large bison alongside his peers.
Wildlife Administrative Assistant, Nicole Black weighs each of the buffalo as they pass through the chute. This year’s roundup checked and vaccinated a total of 109 bison in a single day before returning them to pasture.
A young bison awaits its turn in the chute, where individually tagged animals are inspected and vaccinated to insure optimal herd health from one season to the next.
Two male bison are culled from the herd ahead of the harvest, these animals will be used for their meat, hide, and other cultural purposes.
Wildlife Bison Herd Manager, Jesse Lasater gives vaccinations to bison during the annual roundup, in total 109 animals were pulled from pasture for their yearly inspection.
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
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Montessori students join in cultural harvest  

The Southern Ute Wildlife Division held their annual bison roundup, Wednesday, Oct. 26. Southern Ute Tribal Rangers, DNR and other departments worked together to carefully pull each animal from the herd for yearly vaccinations and tagging; each bison received an eight-way vaccination and their annual deworming medicine. 

The main purpose of the annual roundup is to perform an overall health check of the bison herd to maintain herd health. “Just like humans dread going to the dentist,” Wildlife Bison Herd Manager Jesse Lasater said. “I presume the bison dread this day, but we work really hard to keep the event as low stress and calm as possible. Their total time in the chute is minimal and they are put back into their pasture immediately after their health check is complete.” 

“It’s a very long, hard and busy day, but having the opportunity to be so close to such beautiful creatures and feeling their power and size is such a special and truly remarkable experience – and it’s one that always leaves me feeling humble and grateful,” Lasater emphasized. “I’m very proud of the work that goes in to care for the Tribe’s bison herd and the improvements that have been made to the herd and pasture over the past several years.” 

In conjunction with the roundup, a cultural field dressing workshop was also hosted by the Tribe’s Wildlife Division, Thursday, Oct. 27. This year’s event saw students from the Southern Ute Indian Montessori Acadamy, joined by teachers and parents, interested in learning the process of cleaning and skinning the harvested bull bison. Students had the opportunity for hands on participation in the field dressing process, following a Sunrise Blessing by tribal elder, Byron Frost and Bear Dance Chief, Matthew Box.  

Acknowledging their Ute traditions, SUIMA students were able to keep a lock of bison fur once the animal was dressed. Others warmed themselves by the campfire, enjoying hot cocoa and the excitement of the morning. For many of the young participants, the bison harvest provided an opportunity which they might not have otherwise participated in. Cultural etiquette was addressed by Southern Ute elder, Ernest “Muz” Pinnecoose, following the early morning harvest outside the bison pasture. 

The bison chosen for harvest was a two-year-old bull, he was one of two animals culled from the herd that day, bringing the total bison herd count to 109. Maintaining the heard size is an important component to maintaining the health of the herd, while also addressing the membership’s need for bison meat. “Outside of the annual field dressing ceremony, I haul the bison every month during the winter months to be harvested at a USDA facility in Montrose,” Lasater explained. 

A big part of the bison program is the meat distribution program to the tribal membership and the Southern Ute Indian Montessori Acadamy’s lunch program.  Roughly 35-40 tribal members come to the Wildlife Division every month for bison meat.  The program offers five pounds of bison meat to Southern Ute Indian tribal member households at no cost, each month. “In total, about 2,300 pounds of bison meat is distributed each year to the tribal membership from the SUIT bison herd,” Lasater said. “The meat is all natural grass-fed, making it a very healthy food source.” 

The cycle of life continues, and the continued management of the Tribe’s herd is an example to follow; 21 new calves were born into the herd this past year. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe is also a long-standing member of the InterTribal Buffalo Council, whose mission is, “Restoring buffalo to the Indian Country, to preserve our historical, cultural, traditional and spiritual relationship for future generations.” The InterTribal Buffalo Council includes fifty-eight tribes from nineteen states and a collective herd of over 15,000 buffalo. 

“The roundup is one of a few days out of the year where I have assistance from the DNR Wildlife staff and other departments, and I enjoy the company,” Lasater remarked. “It’s nice to have someone to talk to besides the buffalo.” 

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