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City Of Denver Gives 14 Bison To Tribal Nations

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Denver, Colo., oversees more than 14,000 acres of mountain parks. That is a lot of land to maintain.

SCOTT GILMORE: I'm Scott Gilmore. I am the deputy executive director of Parks and Recreation. I'm Leslie Knope. I have probably one of the best jobs in the world.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Gilmore has a lot on his plate. He oversees park maintenance, construction, seven golf courses and a forestry program. On top of all that...

(SOUNDBITE OF BISON VOCALIZING)

CHANG: Bison. Two herds live on Denver parkland.

KELLY: More than 30 million bison once roamed North America. But when white settlers came to the Great Plains, they were almost wiped out.

GILMORE: Just stacks and stacks of bison skulls, people sitting on them, thousands and thousands of them, where people just went out and shot bison just to shoot them.

KELLY: A population of many millions dropped to just 1,000 by the turn of the 20th century.

GILMORE: A lot of it was actually done to take away the food source of tribal members of the historic tribes on the Great Plains. You remove their food source, and then you can take away a way that they sustain themselves.

CHANG: Now Denver is returning bison to Native Americans. The Parks department annually culls its herd to prevent overpopulation. But instead of auctioning off the animals, it is donating them.

KELLY: One bison went to the Tall Bull Memorial Council in Colorado. Thirteen went to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma, where Nathan Hart manages the bison.

NATHAN HART: Everybody's really excited to grow the herd with this addition because the bison was very significant to our well-being in the past.

KELLY: Hart says they can be very significant today, too.

HART: Growing the herd is going to help us kind of reach the goal we have of food sovereignty. We also feel that now is the responsibility for us to take care of an animal, a mighty animal that has taken care of us in the past.

CHANG: Returning bison to Native lands is sort of like a form of reparations, says Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

MICHAEL HANCOCK: We get a chance to apologize, acknowledge the challenges of the past and to forge a relationship going forward.

CHANG: For Gilmore in the Parks and Rec department, this first gift is a step in the right direction

GILMORE: For us to be able to donate the bison back to tribes, that's actually, you know, walking the walk instead of just talking the talk.

CHANG: Denver plans to continue donating surplus bison to tribes throughout 2030.

(SOUNDBITE OF TORTOISE'S "TEN-DAY INTERVAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.