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Northern Plains Bison Education & Research Network

A regional network of Tribal colleges in the northern Great Plains collaborating on agricultural and natural resource program development, information infrastructures, technology capacity-building, and instructional delivery through telecommunications.

Historical fact . . . Vast herds of bison once covered the Great Plains and supplied food, clothing, shelter, and other essentials for the Plains Indians. Reports of early explorers mention herds numbering from 10,000 to 100,000 in one area. It is said that the roaring of the bulls was like the continuous roll of a hundred drums and could be heard for miles.

Natural losses such as blizzards, drowning, drought, and wolves were great, but trappers, hunters and settlers were the greatest cause of extermination. The buffaloes were used not only for meat, but also for robes. Thousands of hides were shipped from Fort Benton to Bismarck and sold for $1.25 to $2.50 each. Wages were high and profits great. But the once vast bison herds quickly disappeared, except for a few hundred.

The primary focus of the Northern Plains Bison Education & Research Project is to replenish buffalo herds and to develop culturally-based formal and non-formal education opportunities which support the concurrent development of Tribal land and human resources in rural communities of North Dakota and South Dakota. Through curriculum collaborations among Indian colleges and universities, education programs integrating information about agriculture, rural economic development, natural resources, and sustainable ecosystems can be shared through technology resources and electronic networks emerging on federal Indian reservations in the northern Great Plains.

The project's overall goal is to strengthen the capacities of Indian Tribes and native communities in revitalizing reservation economies by developing land resources and preserving ecosystems for long-term productivity.

Bison Network Objectives

  • To nurture a "Tribal land ethic" by expanding the knowledge base and learning about the political, cultural, and socioeconomic relationships between American Indian people and indigenous homelands.
  • To increase an understanding among Tribal college educators and agricultural professionals about the relationship between rural economic development, reservation land use, bison production, and ecosystems.
  • To increase learning opportunities for Tribal college students, staff, professionals, and agricultural producers by exploring and planning dispersed learning models for postsecondary education in the areas of Tribal land and natural resources management, environmental preservation, and economic development.
  • To increase the number of American Indians with the knowledge and skills to provide "resident expertise" in the areas of Tribal land and natural resources management, particularly bison management.

The Relative Buffalo

"In the old days, the buffalo herd was very large. They are the brother and sister of mankind. It was said that the buffalo has a dance, but it was not a social dance. After our people understood this dance, they knew that it was only for those people who had visions.

My maternal grandfather had a vision of this buffalo dance and the power which this dance can give. It is the custom, when a man has this vision, to have the medicine men examine the man to see if the vision was true. This is what happened to my grandfather. He was told to take off his moccasins, tie sage around his ankles, and put a buffalo robe over his head.

Then he danced across a smoothed dirt area. When he had finished his dance, they went and looked at the tracks he made in the dirt. They were not his footprints, but they were the hoofmarks of a buffalo. This proved that his vision was true."

By Lillian Martinez
Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Elder
(c.1973) UTTC American Indian Curriculum Development Project

Native Cultures

Many American Indian cultures define the world in both physical and spiritual contexts. Because Tribal colleges were founded with institutional commitments to preserve all elements of Native cultures, the Northern Plains Bison Education & Research Project recognizes that educational programs addressing Indian land and human resources needs must integrate those cultural values important to Native people. Indian colleges have the best access to people with traditional knowledge to make higher education programs culturally-relevant for American Indian students.

Curriculum Development

The Northern Plains Bison Education & Research Project will utilize the intercollegiate networks to bring together Tribal college faculty, curriculum specialists, native culture experts, community members, and those involved in bison production, so that a coordinated effort can be made to identify course content, outcomes, resources, and technology applications for Tribal land grant education programs.

Distance Learning

The geographic locations of many reservations in the northern Great Plains have historically posed barriers for Indian people to participate in higher education programs located off the reservation.

Applications of emerging technologies such as the internet, interactive video networks, and satellite communications at Tribal colleges will diminish rural isolation barriers and contribute toward the accomplishment of the project's purposes.


The leadership of the Tribal colleges and universities of the northern Great Plains believe this particular Native American higher education initiative will have profound and long-lasting impacts on the Indian Nations of the region. Given the particular needs and conditions of Native families and communities on federal Indian reservations today, there is a critical need for new initiatives that will advance the utilization of Indian land and human resources in a manner that is culturally-appropriate and productive, and yet is oriented to prepare America's indigenous People for the twenty-first century.

NPBERN Tribal Land Grant Institutions Participating

Contact Us

3315 University Drive
Bismarck, ND 58504

(701) 255-3285 ext. 1238
Fax: (701) 530-0605