Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Honoring Thathanka Oyate: Local events explore and celebrate films detailing the history of the American Buffalo


Across America, fans are awaiting the October release of acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns’ latest film called “The American Buffalo.” In South Dakota, an early screening of that film will include a series of unique and exciting events.

“It is a quintessentially American story,” Burns said, “filled with unforgettable stories and people. But it is also a morality tale encompassing two historically significant lessons that resonate today: how humans can damage the natural world and also how we can work together to make choices to preserve the environment around us. The story of the American buffalo is also the story of Native nations who lived with and relied on the buffalo to survive, developing a sacred relationship that evolved over more than 10,000 years but which was almost completely severed in fewer than 100.”

South Dakota Public Broadcastingalso partnered with Maȟpíya Lúta (Red Cloud Indian School) to produce “Tatanka: A Way of Life”.

The first preview screenings of both films will be the featured events at the Honoring Thathanka Oyate community festival on Saturday, Sept. 30 at the Maȟpíya Lúta (Red Cloud Indian School), 100 Mission Drive, Pine Ridge, SD.

Doors open at noon, and the event starts at 1pm with an opening prayer and welcome address by festival emcee Chris Eagle Hawk.

At 1:30pm, there will be sneak peek previews of Ken Burns' The American Buffalo and SDPB's Tatanka: A Way of Life. Following the preview screenings, a panel discussion will take place with topics surrounding food sovereignty and the importance of Native led buffalo herds.

Nick Hernandez, CEO of Makoce Agriculture will facilitate the discussion.

Panelists include: Trudy Ecoffey, Executive Director of Tanka Fund; Ed Iron Cloud, buffalo ranch operations manager at Knife Chief Buffalo Nation Society; Bamm Brewer, buffalo rancher at Brewer Buffalo Adventures; and Virgil Two Eagle, buffalo producer at Black Feather Buffalo Ranch.

At 3:30pm, enjoy music provided by the drum group Čaŋte T’iŋza Singers, a Powwow Dance exhibition by the Our Lady of Lourdes Dance Club, and traditional hand game demonstrations by instructors at Maȟpíya Lúta.

Several kids' activities will take place throughout the festival, including face painting, balloon animals, and a bouncy house!

The day ends with a community meal at 5pm, with food provided by The Hangry Buffalo.

“As we began to discuss some ideas for local programs to produce in conjunction with Ken Burns’ ‘American Buffalo,’ we wanted to tell a story that was not being told — the story of the relationship between indigenous people of South Dakota and the buffalo,” said Brad Van Osdel, Director of Entertainment Content at SDPB. “To do this successfully, we needed to hear the voices of the people who lived and continue to live the story of tatanka. Because of our relationship with Maȟpíya Lúta (Red Cloud Indian School) and their willingness to allow us to attend the buffalo harvest and record their students reciting the White Buffalo Calf Woman Story in Lakota and English, SDPB was able to better tell the story from the perspective of indigenous people.”

South Dakota has a long history surrounding the American Buffalo, both positive and negative.

South Dakota Public Broadcasting wanted to tell the story and honor the history of the buffalo while celebrating the return of the buffalo to South Dakota.

“SDPB’s mission is to make the historical and contemporary stories of South Dakota an experience,” said Julie Overgaard, Executive Director at SDPB. ”Providing an opportunity to give people of the Oceti Sakowin the opportunity to celebrate their bond to the American Buffalo benefits us all, for they are the keepers of the stories and we share those stories with the world.”

Local support is provided by the Tanka Fund and the Friends of Dr. Mark Butterbrodt.

Corporate funding for THE AMERICAN BUFFALO was provided by Bank of America. Major funding was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by The Better Angels Society and its following members: Margaret A. Cargill Foundation fund at the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation; Diane and Hal Brierley; The Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment; John and Catherine Debs; Kissick Family Foundation; Fred and Donna Seigel; Jacqueline Mars; John and Leslie McQuown; and Mr. and Mrs. Paul Tudor Jones. Funding was also provided by The Volgenau Foundation.