Bison Slaughter of the Late 1800s Has Done Lasting Damage to Plains Indian Nations Today, Study Says

Descendants of Native Nations That Relied on Buffalo Have Less Wealth, Poorer Health, Greater Suicide Risk

1892: bison skulls await industrial processing at Michigan Carbon Works in Rogueville (a suburb of Detroit). Bones were used processed to be used for glue, fertilizer, dye/tint/ink, or were burned to create”bone char” which was an important component for sugar refining. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

A study released by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis late last year bares the academic title: “The Slaughter of the Bison and Reversal of Fortunes on the Great Plains” but the picture it paints is one of deep and lasting suffering.

The study looked at members of indigenous nations in the Great Plains, Northwest, and Rocky Mountains where buffalo had once been a primary food source for their ancestors and central to their cultures. According to the study:

Once the tallest people in the world, the generations of bison-reliant people born after the slaughter were among the shortest. Today, formerly bison-reliant societies have between 20-40% less income per capita than the average Native American nation. …

We find increased levels of suicide and news reports of social dislocation among formerly bison-reliant tribes, suggesting that the bison’s decline may have generated a psychological impact that has persisted across generations. This result is consistent with the psychological literature on historical trauma …

Arguably, the decline of the bison was one of the largest devaluations of human capital in North American history …

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