A herd of wild plains bison was reintroduced into Banff National Park in 2017. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

‘They’re home:’ Hike to see Banff bison a spiritual journey for group of women

BANFF, Alta. — Marie-Eve Marchand and Tanealle Shade stand on a grassy knoll in Alberta’s Banff National Park hoping to catch a glimpse of the bison herd.

As they look at a small warden’s cabin, Marchand raises her binoculars to Divide Pass.

“They’re there, they’re there,” she says.

Marchand, who was part of the Bison Belong campaign to bring the animals back to Banff, looks a few more times to make sure she’s not imagining things, then passes the binoculars to Tanealle.

“I just froze and just a little tear ran down my face,” says Tanealle, 15. “I never thought I’d see the day when we had free-roaming buffalo.

“They’re home.”

The herd of wild plains bison, which was reintroduced in the park in 2017, has been free to roam in 1,200 square kilometres of backcountry on the park’s northeast side for the past year.

“They are incredibly adaptable,” says Karsten Heuer, manager of the park’s bison reintroduction project.

“For them to come back after a 140-plus year absence and integrate and adopt the landscape to the extent that they have has really been rewarding to witness.”

Most of the 36 animals have stuck together, other than three lone bulls that are off on their own.

Marchand puts her fingers to her ears — mimicking bison horns — and quietly says ”buffalo” to alert others in the group. They walk over and take turns with the binoculars. Others shed tears as they spot the herd, which included two new calves.

The group of women is one of the first to see the herd since they were brought back to Banff, but their trek was far from easy.

They met at the Bighorn campground on a Saturday evening to get organized for a week-long trip into the rugged backcountry.

They hitched a wagon ride to the park boundary with a local outfitter, hiked more than 65 kilometres, carried more than 20 kilograms of weight on their backs and crossed numerous creeks in their quest to find the bison.

All the while, they saw signs: a bison wallow, bison tracks on the trails, fresh bison dung.

Each of the women on the backcountry hike have a connection to bison — or buffalo, as they are traditionally known by Indigenous people.

Tanealle’s grandfather, Leroy Little Bear, is involved with the Buffalo Treaty, an agreement between First Nations in the United States and Canada to protect and restore bison herds in the wild.

Kansie Fox, an environmental protection manager, and Diandra Bruised Head, a climate change co-ordinator, work with the Blood Tribe or Kainai First Nation in southern Alberta.

Fox says they are working to bring buffalo back on the reservation as a way to connect Blackfoot people to their history.

“I just wanted to be a part of it to see if we could join forces in whatever we are trying to do in order to support the buffalo coming back,” she says.

It felt like a dream to see the buffalo in the Rockies, she says.

“We’re so used to seeing them out on the plains and to see them here in the mountains is so cool,” says Fox.

Bruised Head says she was looking for a place to make a tobacco offering when the bison were spotted.

“It left me speechless,” she says. “They are my relatives, they are my cousins, they are what connect me to my ancestors. It was almost sacred seeing them, even in the distance, letting them be wild.”

Glinis Buffalo, a member of the Samson Cree Nation south of Edmonton, says she’s always wanted to see buffalo in the wild.

“It took me a second to see them, but then when I spotted them, I actually just put the binoculars back down because I was actually kind of shocked,” she says. “I couldn’t even stare at them for more than a second.”

She says it was a beautiful sight to see these “tiny specks of brown” off in the distance.

“It made me think about when my ancestors, who would hunt, and that’s probably what they would see,” she says. “So this is how they felt when they spotted a herd of buffalo to go hunt.’”

Heuer says he’s heard from five different groups that have attempted to see the bison in the Banff backcountry.

“It’s not a super easy place to access,” he says. “Even if you do go back there, everything has to come together for you to actually see the animals. They are quite ghost-like a lot of the time, despite their size.

“It’s a pretty massive, complex landscape to find them in.”

Marchand says she had her doubts about whether the group would see the bison, but she had a good feeling.

“I can’t believe how lucky we were,” she says. “But we believed it — and we did it.”

Just Posted

Woman killed in collision west of Rocky Mountain House

A 42-year-old woman is dead after a two-vehicle collision in Clearwater County… Continue reading

Rough camper “tree house” found hidden in Red Deer woods

“This took a bit of work,” says man who discovered it

Central Alberta has one less peacekeeper with death of Nobel Prize-winning vet

The late Wayne Coubrough and Wayne Bevis helped diffuse tensions in the Middle East

TC Energy applauds Nebraska court victory over opponents of Keystone XL pipeline

CALGARY — One of the last major hurdles for the Keystone XL… Continue reading

Tribunal rules Edmonton pharmacist harmed integrity of profession

EDMONTON — An Edmonton pharmacist has been found guilty of unprofessional conduct… Continue reading

WATCH: Trailer stolen from Red Deer deli

A Red Deer business has contacted police after a trailer was stolen… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Thursday The Red Deer and District Garden Club hosts its annual Flower… Continue reading

Alberta loses extra-innings thriller at men’s baseball nationals

Alberta came up just short in their second game at the Baseball… Continue reading

G7 leaders should step up own climate plans to help the Amazon, Greenpeace says

OTTAWA — Some Canadian environment groups are urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau… Continue reading

Third-party buys billboard to promote Bernier’s anti-mass immigration stance

OTTAWA — Billboards with Maxime Bernier’s face and a slogan advocating against… Continue reading

Ottawa ready to pass law forcing CN to restore rusting Quebec Bridge

Ottawa says its ready to take ownership of the aging Quebec Bridge… Continue reading

TC Energy applauds Nebraska court victory over opponents of Keystone XL pipeline

CALGARY — One of the last major hurdles for the Keystone XL… Continue reading

‘Our bigger enemy’: Trump escalates attack on Fed chief

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump launched a furious and highly personal attack… Continue reading

Ontario shipyard accuses feds of unfairly stacking deck in Davie’s favour

OTTAWA — An Ontario shipyard is accusing the federal government of trying… Continue reading

Most Read