In action - In brief

The importance of the bison for North America

Bison play an important ecological and cultural role in North America.

Issue 2 | 2022

Bison play an important ecological and cultural role in North America. On a scholarship from the DAAD’s Postdoctoral Researchers International Mobility Experience (PRIME) programme, Dr Brianne Altmann from Canada is pursuing research at the University of Kassel to discover how nature and society could bene­fit if the American buffalo were to become widespread again in the wild. “The bison used to be the primary source of food for indigenous communities and preserved grasslands through their grazing. Their ecological role was largely taken over by cattle when they were hunted close to extinction by European settlers,” explains Altmann. “For indigenous peoples, the repopulation of bison is a means of regaining nature, culture and food sovereignty.” For her research project “The bison – the link between food sovereignty and sustainability”, Altmann is collabor­ating with researchers from the Canadian Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food. The aim is to bring together Western and indigenous views of bison, while reducing social and ecological inequalities at the same time. There are already signs of positive development: “Over 1,000 bison farms now exist in Canada,” explains Altmann. Many indigenous people are working to repopulate bison in their traditional habitats. “This has a positive impact on the biodiversity and resilience of the prairie.”

Furthermore, the export of bison meat with protected geographical indications could form the basis of an independent livelihood for indigenous people. The EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) provides for the ­duty-free import of up to 3,000 tons of bison meat: “This creates an opportunity for indigenous producers to obtain their first access to an inter­national market outside America.” —