Indian reservation

Historic Big Medicine white bison to be returned to Flathead Indian Reservation

HELENA — The Montana Historical Society and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have reached an agreement to return Big Medicine, a white bison born at the National Bison Range in 1933, to the Flathead Indian Reservation.

White bison calves are rare and considered sacred to the tribes.

According to an exhibit at the MHS, Big Medicine held great significance to natives and non-natives in Montana. Prior to his death in 1959, the Historical Society arranged for it to be preserved and transferred to the Helena State Museum.

Shane Morigeau, deputy chief executive of CSKT, called Thursday a historic day, saying Big Medicine “has tremendous traditional, cultural and historical significance to us. He is an abiding source of pride and his medicine represents the past that has deferred to the present and the work that remains to be done to protect our identity, culture and well-being in the future. We are grateful to MHS for hearing from us and understanding its importance. We are also grateful for the support of the Montana American Indian Caucus and the Rocky Mountain Tribal Chiefs And although he is on short-term loan to MHS until we bring him back, his spirit is coming home with us today.

“The Montana Historical Society is pleased to see ownership of Big Medicine transferred to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, as per their request, with a unanimous supporting vote from our trustees,” said MTHS Director Molly Kruckenberg. “As part of our agreement, MTHS will retain physical possession of Big Medicine until the tribes have a safe environment in which it can be displayed.”

MTHS said in a statement that Big Medicine’s return is not a repatriation under the Native American Graves Act but is the result of an agreement between two governments.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are planning a celebration once they finish building a space for Big Medicine.

Big Medicine’s comeback deal comes a a little over a year after the Department of the Interior completed the transfer of the National Bison Range in the Mission Valley to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) CSKT, which had operated the Bison Range for decades.

***Correction 10/23/2022: An earlier version of this article contained a typo stating the incorrect year of Big Medicine’s death***