JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — The City and County of Denver donated 33 bison from its Genesee herd to Native American tribes throughout the country. 

Inaccurately called buffalo by the Europeans, the majestic bison has been an iconic symbol of the American West.

But the history of man and bison goes back to the American Indian tribes.

“These aren’t just animals, they are part of them. It’s not here are the animals and here we are, it is all one,” Scott Gilmore, Denver Parks and Recreation deputy executive director, said.

In 1918, the herd was created in Genesee by the City of Denver using bison that were direct descendants from herds in Wyoming.

Monday, under snowy skies in a blanket of white, 33 bison left the herd to head to a new home. Fifteen are headed to the Northern Arapahoe Tribe in Wyoming, 17 are going to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma, one is going to the TallBull Memorial Council in Colorado, which represents indigenous groups in the Denver area.

“TallBull was one of the last chiefs, he was killed in the last battle in Colorado,” Gilmore said.

Travel blessings were performed and ceremonial drums were played by tribal members.

The bison will be cared for, bred for future generations, and used for food. A cycle as old as the tribal nations themselves.

“The relationship we have with the bison does go back many many generations. We look at this as a system of reciprocity. At one time they furnished everything for us, the food, the shelter, all the nourishment we could get. And now it’s our turn to take care of them,” Nathan Hart, Cheyenne Arapaho Tribes agriculture director, said.

A continuing of tradition that began long before boots from settlers ever touched the ground.