2018-07-12 / Voices

Dream Of Mending Buffalo Circle Becomes Reality


On a warm summer morning, 6 miles west of Pine Ridge Village, a dream was born. Men and women traveled from across a reservation - and across this country – to bear witness to its arrival.

The name given to this dream was “Charging Buffalo”, the first meat processing facility to be built on this land of the Lakota descended from Red Cloud and Crazy Horse.

The seeds for Charging Buffalo were planted 4 years ago by Bamm Brewer. After spending much of his time working with the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s buffalo herd and distributing beef and other meat products to his people courtesy of the One Spirit organization, Brewer felt it was time for his people to return to the buffalo – and to return the buffalo to his people.

For far too long he’d watched as bulls and cows were driven off the reservation to places where the sacredness of the buffalo wasn’t understood. To places where “tatanka” was seen as just another carcass to be reduced into steaks and ground meat. To places where the people weren’t actually related to the animal they were preparing as food – as the Lakota are related to the buffalo.

The final straw came when Brewer had a door slammed in is face by a worker at one of these facilities while he was trying to access the buffalo he’d delivered.

“We’ll let you know when it’s done!” the man bellowed with indifference.

Brewer finds it difficult to share the story, even after all this time. To contemplate how the remains of an animal he refers to as “his brother”, considered a sacred relative among his people, were being treated.

It was at that moment Brewer decided the buffalo must not leave the reservation. Just as their death was implemented with respect and ceremony by the Lakota so, too, must the preparation of their remains be completed in a similar fashion.

After all, hadn’t the Lakota done so for as many generations as there were oral traditions about the relationship between them and their brothers and sisters of the buffalo nation? Hadn’t they for millennia cared for the buffalo as the buffalo had cared for them, ensuring that every part of the magnificent animal was turned into something useful when it had given its life for the oyate (the people)?

And shouldn’t that tradition be carried on, especially in this new millennium when so many practices of the past were in danger of being lost or forgotten?

To fulfill his dream of returning the buffalo to the Lakota people Brewer sought the assistance of the One Spirit organization and its director, Jeri Baker – a white woman from the East coast who works tirelessly to bring healthy food to the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Now a part of that sustenance will include buffalo, from the very herd that already grazes on Lakota land.

Brewer referred to the creation of the Charging Buffalo facility as “healing the circle” that was broken when buffalo were taken from the reservation to be processed, as vital a part of the relationship between the Lakota and the sacred animal as is their long shared co-existence on the Northern Plains, in life and in death.

It’s a beautiful story and one that should be shared with the world.

Unfortunately, mainstream media prefers to focus on the negatives, no matter the location, but especially in Indian Country. In their minds of frequently limited scope and imagination, bringing yet another tale of tragedy or drama to the masses about the problems on the Pine Ridge Reservation is much closer to their truth than is the reality of this place where many small successes are actually the norm.

And there’s the other problem; that word “small.”

At a time and in a world where everything has to be “BIG” to be considered important, anything less is of no consequence.

But not for the Lakota, and not on Pine Ridge, where the descendants of Red Cloud and Crazy Horse continue the traditions, the language and the culture of their people, in spite of what the mainstream world might think.

Here, where the circle of life for the buffalo has been mended, the Oglala will move forward as they always have.

Big steps or small, progress is progress.

It’s all good – was’te.

Jim Kent is a freelance writer and radio producer who lives in Hot Springs. He is a contributing columnist to the Lakota Country Times and former editor of The New Lakota Times. His stories can be heard on National Public Radio. Jim can be reached at

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