Bison have long held a prominent place in the culture of the Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation, located about 100 kms east of Regina.
The once-abundant animals were a vital source of food and furs for the ancestors of today’s Carry the Kettle people. Now, high school students from Nakoda Oyade Education Centre at Carry the Kettle are using synchrotron imaging to study the health of a local bison herd, with an eye to protecting and growing their numbers.
Armin Eashappie, a student involved in the Bison Project, says the work she and her classmates are doing is a chance to give back to an animal that was once integral to the very existence of her community. “We don’t want them to go extinct, says Eashappie. “They helped us with everything. We got our tools, our clothes, our food from them. We used every single part of the buffalo, nothing was left behind…they even helped us make our homes – the teepees – we used the hides to cover them up.”
Eashappie’s classmate, Leslie Kaysaywaysemat, says that if their team can identify items the bison are eating that are not good for their health, these could potentially be replaced by other, healthier items. “We want to preserve them and make sure all generations can see how magnificent these creatures are,” he says.
The students, who are participating in the CLS’s Bison Project, gathered samples of bison hair, soil from where the animals graze, and plants they feed on, then analyzed them using the IDEAS beamline at the CLS. The Bison Project, coordinated by the Education group of the CLS, integrates Traditional Knowledge and mainstream science in a transformative research experience for First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students.
Timothy Eashappie, Elder for the Bison Project, says it’s “awesome” that the students can use the Canadian Light Source to learn more about an animal that his people have long taken care of on the prairies. “That’s how we define ourselves – as Buffalo People,” says Eashappie. “Since the beginning of time, they gave themselves to us, and now these young people are finding out how important these buffalo are to them, because it preserves their language, their culture, and their way of life. And now it’s our turn to take care of the bison.”
Once they’ve completed their analysis, the students will share their findings with the Chief and Council for Carry the Kettle.