Montana American Indians Donate Buffalo to Evacuees

10-10-05 - Two American Indian tribes in Montana have donated a 5,000-pound truckload of buffalo meat to hurricane evacuees in Texas.

Bison burgers and steaks were shipped from the tribally owned Little Rockies Meat Packing Co. last week, scheduled to arrive in Terrell Monday night to be distributed to about 400 evacuees.

The Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes said they wanted to help out somehow.

"But we are a very poor reservation," Gros Ventre tribal member Janice Hawley said. "All we had to share was our buffalo herd."

The 10 sacred bison _ worth about $25,000 _ were blessed in a pipe ceremony before slaughter to provide spiritual and nutritional sustenance to the evacuees.

At first the tribes had trouble finding an organization to accept their gift, said Charlene Rushing, who recently returned to North Texas after living with the Montana tribes for 10 years.

The American Red Cross was no longer taking food donations. And Dallas had plenty of donations. Other organizations didn't know how well evacuees would accept eating bison.

"They're beautiful creatures," Rushing said. "But a lot of people were like, 'Uh, yuck.'"

Bison were listed as endangered in the past, but are now thriving.

The tribes found a recipient in the Terrell Chamber of Commerce in Kaufman County.

Many Terrell residents hunt and have bought buffalo from the local meat market, said Sarah Kegerreis, the chamber's director of tourism.

"It's very lean," she said. "It makes wonderful hamburgers and wonderful chili."

The tribes faced another hurdle trying to ship the meat.

But Mesquite-based Dependable Auto Shippers Inc. found and paid for a refrigerated-trucking company to pick up the meat and take it to a Wal-Mart cold storage area for distribution.

Some of the bison will be distributed by the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church at a party next month in Dallas for all evacuees and relief workers.