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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 27, 2003 - Issue 103


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Butchered Buffalo Provides Valuable Lessons

by MARISSA STONE | TheSante Fe New Mexican

Credits: "Chief" by Robert Bateman

"Chief" by Robert BatemanThe cook at Santa Fe Indian School witnessed the slaughtering and butchering of a buffalo on Nambé Pueblo and took meat from the animal to the school.

"I want to cook the food (in a way) where it brings people together," said the cook, Gerald Rosetta of Santo Domingo Pueblo on Dec. 4 at the Buffalo Range in Nambé.

Rosetta, students and others from the school joined tribal members from Nambé to take part in a traditional bison butchering.

Some students were exhilarated at having helped cut the buffalo apart -- some used handsaws to cut the animal's hide. Patrick Maestas, 14, and other boys had bloody hands after having touched the buffalo.

The animal's meat will be eaten in several pueblos and its head will be mounted at the school and used as a mascot, said Ben Yates, buffalo keeper at Nambé.

Yates had raised the buffalo for five years. "I brought him up since he was a boy -- now he's going to a special place to be represented by all these tribes," Yates said.

He seemed pleased that the animal was being sent "home in a traditional way," similar to the manner in which Yates' ancestors hunted and properly parted with the animal's spirit, the buffalo keeper said.

Yates' son, Aaron, named the buffalo Mr. Mi-Tonka (my big bull). The animal's real name was Flint Mountain, Yates said.

A new buffalo that will fortify the gene pool of the tribe's herd will replace the slaughtered bison.

Through the Intertribal Bison Cooperative, a national organization, the tribe recently received a herd of 12 bison to supplement the village's herd of 11. The buffalo roam on 200 acres of the village's 19,000 acres in Nambé, which borders Pojoaque and Tesuque pueblos, Yates said. However, the buffalo keeper would prefer it if the animals would be allowed to roam in their "natural habitat" at the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the center of the Jemez Mountains. Yates has sent letters asking preserve managers if the animals can roam there but hasn't received a reply.

The butchering of the animal seemed to bring the men together. Darren Valencia, 16, of Santo Domingo Pueblo, pointed out that the bison's hide was being salted and the boys were learning traditional ways of butchering. Girls from the school didn't attend because "they just cook," Valencia said.

"This was a once in a lifetime experience," said Jose Patricio, 17, of Acoma Pueblo. "I was thinking about buffalo wings," he joked. Other students who participated were Josh Peynetsa, 15, of Zuni Pueblo; Kenneth Nieto, 16, of Santo Domingo Pueblo; Myron Sandoval, 16, of San Felipe and San Juan pueblos; Malcom "X" Morgan, 14, of the Navajo Nation; and Kerwin Tsosie, 18, of Jemez Pueblo.

At the end of the butchering, Walter Dasheno, an administrator at the school and former governor of Santa Clara Pueblo, said a prayer in Tewa. The men and boys bowed their heads.

"I hope it gives you sustenance, and the creator will bless you," said Nambé Pueblo Gov. Tom Talache.

"Don't forget your traditional ways," Lt. Gov. Shannon McKenna cautioned the boys. "Remember your villages and be proud of that."

The bison co-op, which includes 51 federally recognized tribes in 17 states, works to restore buffalo to American Indian lands. Surplus buffalo from national parks are donated to member tribes. Picuris, Pojoaque, San Juan, Sandia, Taos and Tesuque pueblos also raise bison.

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