In South Dakota, a Buffalo Herd Thrives in Cattle Country

Land grant universities whose research supports the beef industry are funded in part by land stolen from Indigenous tribes.

April 23, 2024 | Source: Sentient Food | by Grace Hussain

Everytime Bamm Brewer kills a buffalo, he says a prayer thanking the animal for their sacrifice, and asking for protection. “Whenever you get there,” the prayer usually concludes, “can you carry a message to our relatives in the spirit world?” An Oglala Lakota living on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Brewer has been caring for the reservation’s buffalo herd in the southwestern corner of South Dakota for 30 years. In that time, the herd has nearly tripled in size, growing from 25 individual buffalo to, now, 70. For Brewer, the buffalo are not just a herd of animals, but a way to reclaim the health and culture of his people — a sharp contrast to the way cattle are treated on most industrial feedlots.

Beef production is big business in South Dakota, providing more than $1 billion out of the $10 billion that all of South Dakota agriculture rakes in. There are approximately 1 million beef cattle at any given time in the state, according to South Dakota State University, which is as well funded as it is today thanks, in part, to land taken from Indigenous tribes.