Mayor Michael Hancock joined Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Gov. Reggie Wassana on Friday at Genesee Park as Denver embarked on what officials hope is a new tradition: donating bison from its herd to tribal nations.
The city donated 13 bison to the federally recognized tribe based in Oklahoma, holding a brief ceremony in Golden before the animals were loaded onto trailers for a 10-hour trip to their new home. Wassana said the animals will be used to help provide food for tribal members and breed more bison.
The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes have about 13,000 members, Wassana said, adding that some live in Colorado. He said the tribal nation would like to expand its relationship with the city and the state. He called the donation a “great, grand gesture.”
“We’re proud to be here,” Wassana said. “We like coming back here. We consider this part of our homeland.”
The donated bison, or buffalo, as many of the tribal members called them, are descendants of herds from Yellowstone National Park. Typically, extra bison are auctioned off, generating some revenue for the city and helping promote genetic diversity for the species. The city keeps two herds in its Mountain Parks, at Genesee, where they’re visible from the highway, and at Daniels Park in Sedalia.
The donation was completed with help from the Denver American Indian Commission. Councilmember Jamie Torres will introduce a bill at City Council on Monday that will formally approve the bison donation and ensure this practice continues through 2030. Torres said she doesn’t want the city to go back to auctioning the bison.
Hancock called the donation a chance to honor people who “cared for this land before anyone else in the world knew of this land.” He said the city shares a common vision with tribal partners to return and restore bison to their historical habitats.
“This is a very intentional relationship that we’re working to forge here,” Hancock said.
A land acknowledgment statement usually read at Denver City Council meetings was read on Friday by Executive Director of Parks and Recreation Happy Haynes. It acknowledges that the city is the traditional territory of the Cheyenne and Arapaho people, as well as the Ute people.
Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation Scott Gilmore said an additional bison will be donated to the Tall Bull Memorial Council. The donated bison are all females.