DEER - On the western flank of Black Canyon, 100 head of bison
shuffle uphill and turn across an open meadow.
the deep blue sky, a lone cloud - its downy mass furrowed as if
vibrated into sections by the herd's hammering hooves - overlooks
the curious gathering below.
Little Owl firmly sets his Nike-clad feet in the dry grass, raises
the 7mm magnum hunting rifle to his shoulder and takes aim through
the telescopic sight.
him, a crowd of about 50 people strain to see, some standing in
the back of pickups, others spread across the hillside for a better
silence they wait for the crack of the rifle shot and for one of
the bison to fall.
was the seventh annual buffalo hunt organized by the Native American
Student Services department at the University of Northern Colorado
in Greeley. The hunt is held in the Bighorn Mountains on the Crow
Indian Reservation in south-central Montana.
program is a way to introduce Crow culture to university students,
as well as the Crow to the university. The three-day trip, which
included visits to the Little Bighorn Battlefield and the Bighorn
Canyon National Recreation Area, is capped by a buffalo hunt. Students
are encouraged to take part in the butchering of the animals killed
by tribal members.
Owl, 30, who grew up on the reservation, is the director of UNC's
Native American Student Services. He said the trip offered students
a chance to see another side of Native American life.
trying to breach a cultural gap," Little Owl said. "A
lot of these kids will never go camping, never go to Montana. This
is a lifetime experience.
it's also a recruiting trip for the Crow, to let them know the benefits
of a college education," he said.
the trip is billed as a buffalo hunt, Little Owl uses the experience
as a way to separate reality from myth.
said that after the hunt, students will realize that hamburger doesn't
come from McDonald's and that Native Americans do not act like those
depicted in the movie "Dances With Wolves."
events affect the students in many ways. For 20-year-old Aubrey
Nitzberg, the trip has connected her to a past she did not know.
more than just a buffalo hunt," she said. Nitzberg said she
has Native American ancestors from the Southern Ute, Shoshone, Blackfeet
and Cherokee tribes. But until she made her first trip with Little
Owl, she felt disconnected from her roots.
something soothing about the trip," she said. "I feel
like it's home, even though it's not my home. I feel like they are
my traditions, even though they are not my own. I feel lucky that
they are sharing this with me. It's magical."
her first trip three years ago, she has become involved in Native
American Student Services. She is now the president of First Nations,
a student organization.
bison are too bunched up for Little Owl to make a clean kill. The
herd pushes through the meadow into the timber and crosses a ridge
beyond. In a pickup driven by a tribal member, Little Owl and a
few students pursue the herd, hoping to get a shot.
game warden Curtis Rides Horse drives behind in a pickup packed
with students who are hoping to see the kill and help butcher the
is so cool," 21-year-old Kristina Chadwick coos as she bounces
along. "This is what we came here for. I'm so excited."
the herd slows atop a hill, Little Owl gets a chance to shoot. The
rifle report echoes across the mountains. Two more shots and a 3-year-old
cow moves away from the now-running herd. She walks into a patch
of scattered timber and old downfall as the hunters approach. A
final shot at close range finally kills the prostrate cow.
pickups pull up to the site, students jump down and gather around
the dead bison while others tend to a bull killed at the top of
the canyon. Some of the students take pictures. Some smile. Others
look sad or seem worried. There is little talk.
quickly, the hard work of butchering begins.
right you guys, help out," Little Owl yells to the group.
pulls up the sleeves of her flowered cotton top and latches on to
one of the cow's hairy legs as the animal is gutted. Before long
she has a splotch of blood smeared on her forehead, just above her
of Craig, Colo., later said her town wouldn't survive if it wasn't
for hunting and coal mining. And although her parents hunted when
she was younger, she has never been on a hunt when an animal was
rises from the chest cavity after the cow is cut open by a sharp
knife and saw. Students help pull the entrails out. Working quickly,
Little Owl then skins one side of the bison and begins cutting the
meat into quarters - the rear leg is separated from the backbone,
then the front leg. The backstraps are peeled away. Students struggle
to lift the heavy slabs of meat which are placed on a plastic tarp
to keep them free of dirt.
Rusho, 19, of Denver, watches the work from a distance, a camera
in her hand.
first it was a shock," she said. "I've never seen an animal
die. But after a while, you just see it as meat.
think it's good for people to experience something like this, even
if it is hard," she adds. "We have to see the sacrifice
that's made. It's not always convenient to feed yourself."