Story at a glance
- The DOI announced the transfer of the National Bison Range to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
- The land already sits within a Native American reservation.
- The DOI has undergone multiple land transfer programs to return land to Indigenous communities.
The U.S. Department of Interior announced Wednesday the restoration of more than 18,800 acres of land, known as the National Bison Range, so it can be returned to Indigenous tribes in Montana.
The transfer will be issued from the Interior to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), specifically to be held for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) of the Flathead Reservation in Montana.
The lands were already within the bounds of the CSKT reservation prior to being officially transferred.
The National Bison Range (NBR) was established in 1908 to protect the American Bison from extinction following the desecration of the species in the centuries before — driven by American settlers and systematic hunting. It marked the first time Congress allocated tax funding to buy land for the single mission of preserving wildlife.
While the transfer was formally announced Wednesday, Congress passed legislation on Dec. 27, which then-President Trump signed into law, restoring ownership of the National Bison Range to the CSKT.
“The establishment of the National Bison Range was an historic use of lands to preserve wildlife, but we must also acknowledge that this act reduced the Salish and Kootenai peoples’ homeland by thousands of acres,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Bryan Newland. “The return of these lands back to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes is truly a significant milestone in their relationship with the Interior Department and the United States.”
This is the latest chapter in the U.S.’s current struggle to restore ancestral Native American lands to their Indigenous owners, following centuries of genocide and land theft against Native Americans.
Earlier in June, the Interior also initiated a land transfer returning Hawaiian lands to the native Hawaiian Community, with the express purpose of using the land for housing for people of Native Hawaiian descent.
The Interior is also engaged in the process of restoring land to Alaskan Natives who served in the Vietnam War.