Imagine living on the open prairie a few hundred years ago, the Rocky Mountains rising in the west, the Missouri River sweeping eastward. Bison gather by the tens of thousands to feast on the seasonal grasses. Your family, members of the Plains First Peoples, are here to celebrate and hunt.
You're standing atop a mile long cliff that swells gently from the west as a grassy rise but plunges precipitously on its eastern side as an unseen cliff. You feel the ground tremble, see a cloud of dust roiling in the western sky, and suddenly a racing river of bison (buffalo) rushes past you. Leaping up, you wave a hide or blanket in the air, speeding up the panicked herd, funneling them to the precipice. With their short-sightedness and fear, the bison run at full speed to the edge, a final stride taking them over the cliff to the levels below. The momentum of the herd shoves them over the edge.
Below, hunters with bows & spears finish off the bison that were not killed in the fall. You, and your people, now have plenty of food to see you through the long months ahead. Your celebration & thanksgiving lasts long into the night.
For some 12,000 years, people and animals lived and died here. Today, this buffalo jump reminds us of the close ties people had with the land and how they integrated their lives and culture with the natural world. The Gwich'in People of the Arctic still relies on wildlife, especially caribou, for their cultural, spiritual, and food ties to the land. Caribou are their life. It is not truly possible to separate them, and to do so would be unconscionable. Being here, I can truly understand.
Being here, I can sense this deep connection that goes beyond simply that of gathering food to survive. It is a strongly spiritual one. A female harrier wheeling overhead calls out, reminding me that this a sacred space.