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American Indian Case Study

Part 1: American Indian Case Study: Values and Buffalo

Introduction and Background

There are 562 recognized tribes in America and each on varies from the next.  Each tribe has its own culture, customs, traditions and language.  But the tribes have certain values that are the same.  Central to the Native American Indian values system are respect for the Creator, Mother Earth, and family. All other values branch off of those “big 3”, including a respect for community, beloved children, and elders. (see documents with mind maps below)

Respect for all living things plays a large part in society, where Native Americans feel we humans are connected to all the creatures on Earth.  Humans depend on the four-legged animals like the buffalo.  In earlier times, people used every part of the buffalo and didn’t waste anything. Following the buffalo sustained them, provided for all their needs, and for centuries, nomadic people moved with the herds.  (see video link below)

Several factors caused problems for the nomads who relied on the buffalo.  Their traditional life was in trouble in the 1800s, triggered by the rapid hunting and poaching of the buffalo, to the point of near extinction.  But there were other events that affected Native American Indian’s lifestyle, including the fact that General George Custer discovered gold in the Black Hills. In this case study, we will look at the lack of buffalo and the discovery of gold and how these affected the lives of the self-sustaining people.

Part I: The Buffalo

Naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton estimated the buffalo roamed from Canada to nearly Mexico, from Montana to Ohio in the 1500s. He also estimated the buffalo population was close to 20,000,000 around 1850.

As settlers branched out from the East to the West, more and more Indian tribes were removed and relocated to Indian Territory, which was designated West of Missouri and Arkansas. The Transcontinental Railroad took passengers to new places to settle.  Then, thousands of hunters also took the train ride West. They also brought new weapons with them, guns and rifles.

These men did not have the same values as the Native Americans. Unlike the Native Americans who used the buffalo as a primary source of food, tools, clothing, and shelter, these men killed thousands and thousands of buffalo for sport.  They killed for the sake of killing and left the buffalo to rot on the land. The buffalo herds dwindled quickly.

By the end of the century, Ernest Thompson Seton estimated the population of the buffalo around 1,000 left.  By the late 1800s, the primary food source for Native American Indians was virtually gone.


In the Next Post Part 2
Native American Indian Case Study – Values and Discovery of Gold


Mind Maps of Values Resources:

Minnesota Department of Education American Indian Values Curriculum pdf (or do a google search and locate their original link)

International Reading Association (Values map for 3rd grade) Curriculum for Native American Values pdf 2 minute video describing how the buffalo was used (PG-13)


Other Buffalo Resources:

ICE Case Studies The Buffalo Harvest

Smithsonian Magazine Where the Buffalo No Longer Roamed (warning-graphic photo included)


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