Beyond Your Backyard - Bisonfest At Tatawaw
By Kimberly J. Epp
Last Saturday, August 10th, the second annual Bisonfest was held at Tatawaw Park. Over 200 people were in attendance. The recently named Tatawaw Park (formerly the Wild Animal Park) means that all are welcome. And all were welcome for a celebration of the buffalo, native culture and natural heritage of the area.
This was a family-friendly event open to the public, with plenty of activities to participate in, beautiful scenery to admire, programs to watch, natural and cultural history to learn - and there was no charge to attend. We couldn't have asked for a nicer day weather-wise, either.
People were able to learn about tipis, red river carts and discover the historic cart trails in Moose Jaw. They could try their hand at archery, or throw a replica "atal-atal". There were a beautiful native prairie landscape with various nature displays. They could learn the valuable history of the buffalo. There was also a Pow Wow dancer as well as a Metis jigger. Two brave participants got up on the stage to learn how to jig, too!
Before the mid-1800's, 30 to 70 million bison ranged the plains of North America. When settlers arrived from Europe, the bison were destroyed in great numbers, and by 1900 fewer than 1,000 plains bison remained in North America. Today only two herds of free-ranging bison remain. There are hopes to one day return the bison to Tatawaw, along with a cultural and natural heritage center. The site is rich with history.
The value of the bison to not only the indigenous people but also the prairie itself cannot be underestimated. Bison would keep the grasses at a shorter level - then move on so as not to over-eat their habitat.
Many endangered wildlife relied on the bison. Burrowing Owls, for example, need to be able to keep a watch outside their burrows. Bison eat grasses, sedges, lichen and berries; and seeds would be redistributed in their droppings. Without bison, short-grass prairie species suffer from the competition of taller vegetation species. Cattle have now taken over the role bison used to play, but are not able to roam as the bison once did.
Bison are the largest land mammals in North America, and bulls weigh up to 1,000 kg.
There are two subspecies; plains and wood bison. Historically, the plains bison lived on the prairies while the wood bison lived farther north.
Aboriginal people depended on the bison for food, tools and shelter. Bison hides were used to make teepee covers and clothing. Fur was made into rope. The intestines were made into string. Horns were made into cups, bowls and bows. Absolutely nothing on the animal was wasted.
Along with the various nature displays available, I had a "buzzfest" display on bees.
It was an educational booth where people could learn about various bee species, learn about their adaptations, see how to make a bee watering station and learn various bee facts they may not have known.
For example, did you know that Honey Bees air condition their hives by bringing water into the hive and using their rapid wingbeat to cool the interior with this water? That buzz you hear by a hive is from the bees flapping their wings up to 1,000 beats per second. We have lost 40 per cent of our Honey Bees, and all bees are in decline.
Sadly, by 2050, we are set to lose half of all current species on earth. It is time for us to care. Time for us to act!
This event was sponsored by the "Wakamow Aboriginal Community", the "Northern Plains Heritage Center", the "New Southern Plains Metis Local #160", the "Common Ground" nature group, and the "Moose Jaw Nature Society". If you would like to participate in the event next year, contact event organizer Rich Pickering. Many thanks to Rich, for planning a well thought out, educational and fun-filled event!
So what did the buffalo say to his son when it was time for him to go back to school? Bison! Yes, you may groan now!
Epp is an Environmental Educator and writer, as well as Past President and Field Trip Director of the Moose Jaw Nature Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Sunday (the 18th), I'll be holding a public talk on bees (or should I call it Buzzfest?) At Wellesley Park in Wakamow at 4:00 pm.
We will learn about bees, make bee watering stations, then go for a walk to look for and identify the various bumblebee species we can find. There is no fee unless you want to make a bee bath (watering station) for the bees. To cover materials, the fee is $3.00, or $4.00 if you want a porcelain bath. Contact Kim at (306) 681-3198 for more information. 🐝