Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism

Department or School/College


Committee Chair

Jason Begay

Commitee Members

Keith Graham, Monte Mills


Blackfeet Tribe, Blackfeet Nation, Blackfoot Confederacy, Blackfoot, Browning, bison, buffalo, Native American, Northern Great Plains, Rocky Mountain Front, photography, journalism, photojournalism


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Indigenous, Indian, and Aboriginal Law | Indigenous Studies | Photography


This long-form journalistic story and photo essay is about the Blackfoot Tribes in the United States and Canada and their efforts to restore bison to their land, their diet, and their culture. In 2014, ten tribes from the United States and Canada came together at Blackfeet Nation in Browning, Montana to sign the Buffalo Treaty, a commitment to bringing wild buffalo back to parts of their historical range. The Treaty signing marked the first time in more than 150 years that a diverse group of tribes, some historical enemies, came together in the name of restoring the animal they evolved with for millennia.

In Blackfeet country, bison are at the heart of a movement that has manifested from this Treaty, in which Tribes are beginning to assert power and sovereignty over their landscapes, culture and communities. The return of bison is helping the Blackfoot people emerge from a dark past, and begin to heal traumas that have plagued tribes for more than two centuries.

Since the 1990s, Ervin Carlson, a sixty-year-old Blackfeet native, has been in charge of the Blackfeet Tribe’s herd of roughly 400 buffalo. But since the signing of the Buffalo Treaty in 2014, this buffalo herd has played a more integral role in the culture and society of the Tribe. On the Blackfeet Reservation buffalo are promoting economic development, restoring a nutritional food source, rekindling cultural identity and revitalizing native spirit for Blackfoot Tribes. But Carlson and the Blackfoot Confederacy Tribes in northern Montana and southern Alberta have united with tribes from across the Rocky Mountain West around a grander vision, a movement that has emerged from the Buffalo Treaty: for buffalo to be wild and free roaming on fragments of their historical range, rather than fenced in on a reservation. The near extinction of wild buffalo in the late 19th century was an integral piece of the orchestrated genocide of Native people. The slaughter removed this keystone species – which is fundamental to the health of the vast grasslands of the Northern Great Plains – and compromised the spiritual heart of the Native people. My project, as a photographic essay, illuminates the efforts of Carlson, and others, to bring buffalo back to the wild, an animal whose tragic story, as Carlson says, is emblematic of the Native American struggle.

Johns_Buffalo Renaissance_photos.pdf (12805 kB)
Buffalo Renaissance photo essay

Johns_presentation_Buffalo Renaissance .pdf (114801 kB)
Buffalo Renaissance thesis presentation



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