Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department / School


First Advisor

Timothy J. Nichols


This research explored and documented issues of sustainability associated with the reintroduction of bison in four different bison herds on Reservations in South Dakota. The four herds were managed by: a tribal family cooperative, an individual tribal member, a tribal university and a tribal fish and wildlife agency. The objectives were to identify management practices associated with the sustainability of bison introduction by American Indians; to explore the role of American Indian culture in the management of bison for sustainability; and to investigate rangeland criteria that could be used to measure sustainability of bison reintroduced by American Indians. This project used a holistic, descriptive approach including interviews, coding, and analysis to build themes among the four case studies. The four case study interviews focused on overall management: general practices; environmental issues; economic concerns and cultural issues associated with tribal bison reintroduction. The case study also included rangeland data collection and analysis to determine both soil and plant quality. Soil quality criteria included organic matter, aggregate stability, water content, and chemical analyses. Plant criteria included measures of crude protein, acid detergent fiber, neutral detergent fiber, dry matter production and a species inventory. Each site had replicated plots in shoulder-, mid-, and toe-slope positions with the mid-slope positions having grazed and ungrazed treatments. Common themes that emerged from the interviews included: a hands-off management style; concern for the health and interactions of the land, animals and people; and a de-emphasis of the importance of economics. All four managers acknowledged the importance of cultural traditions and three expressed a deep cultural and spiritual connection to the bison. Results from the soil and plant quality analysis indicated that rangeland conditions were equal to or better than those measured on other grasslands in South Dakota or reported in the literature for mixed-grass prairie. Soil chemical and physical properties supported a diverse plant population with adequate levels of nutrition for bison. The Lakota philosophy of Mitakuye Oyasin, ―all my relatives‖, reflects the Native understanding of connectedness of all aspects of life. This holistic understanding was present in the approach of all four bison managers. Integrating the qualitative and quantitative data from these case studies offers valuable insight into the challenges, successes and unique perspectives of a diverse group of herd managers and contemporary Native leaders of tribal bison reintroduction.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

American bison -- Reintroduction -- South Dakota -- Case studies
Wildlife management -- South Dakota -- Case studies
Indians of North America -- South Dakota

Number of Pages



South Dakota State University



Rights Statement

In Copyright