Henry Red Cloud wins 2011 Glynwood Harvest Award

Henry Red Cloud, Buffalo Hump Sanctuary

Village Earth is proud to announce that our long-time partner, Henry Red Cloud, has won the 2011 Glynwood Harvest Award for Connecting Communities, Farmers and Food, and in particular, for his work restoring buffalo for families on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Henry’s bison project, “Buffalo Hump Sanctuary” is an affiliate of Village Earth.

Glynwood is an agricultural non-profit whose mission is to save farming, has announced the winners of its annual Harvest Awards.  The Harvest Awards were created by Glynwood in order to highlight innovative work being done on a community level to increase access to fresh, locally-produced food and to recognize leaders across the country whose exemplary work support their regional food systems.

This year the winners will participate in a panel discussion open to the public to take place on Monday, October 24 at the 92YTRIBECA in downtown Manhattan.  Moderated by Glynwood President Judith LaBelle, the winners will discuss their work, their challenges and the models they’ve created to increase their community’s access to locally produced foods.

Buffalo Hump Sanctuary is the result of Henry Red Cloud’s father’s vision of reclaiming the land of their Lakota tribe (which for generations had been leased out to non-indigenous people and businesses), and building a successful bison ranching operation that would better support their family economically and culturally.  The work was started in 2000, beginning with the complex process of identifying and reclaiming the land, then restoring the overgrazed land to fertility.  With the help of Village Earth, an organization that helps communities reconnect with resources that promote human well-being through empowerment and community self-reliance, Henry implemented an “Adopt a Buffalo” program; this enabled the release of over 100 head of buffalo onto the reservation, helping native bison ranchers to start or expand their ranching operations.  By 2005 Henry, along with two other families on the reservation, formed the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative, composed of Lakota ranchers who agree to comply with strict ethical standards for the care of the animals. Participating producers are then able to market their meat under the Coop’s label.  To further assist in distributing the Coop’s pasture-raised and field-harvested bison, Henry and Village Earth partnered with a local entrepreneur who markets the products online and sells throughout northern Colorado.  Today, even the smallest producer can find a market for their meat through the Cooperative.

The financial and cultural implications of this work for the Lakota families cannot be underestimated.  About two-thirds of the reservation’s lands have been leased for generations, stripping the families of their connection to their land as well as economic opportunity – leasing the land brings only one-third of the potential profit that working the land can offer.  Additionally, the reservation has been identified as “food insecure,” with little access to fresh, healthy food and a history of related medical issues that result. The production of fresh bison meat has given members of the Lakota access to nutritious protein. To further the goal of supplying fresh healthy food to its community, the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative recently created the Tatanka Talo project to help the elderly members of the reservation by distributing fresh meat to them.

Village Earth Director to speak on Food Security and Sovereignty with Winona LaDuke and Rick Garcia for Earth Day

Winona LaDuke

Village Earth Director, David Bartecchi, is scheduled to speak on a panel on Food Security and Sovereignty with Winona LaDuke and Rick Garcia this Saturday, April 4th  at the Woodbine Ecology Center in Denver, Colorado. The panel is part of the Woodbine Ecology Center’s three-day conference “Honoring Mother Earth Everyday: Indigenous Models and Practices for Sustainable Communities.”

The participatory conference will focus on principles and practices, sustainable communities, food security and sovereignty, land struggles, reclaiming and regenerating our common environment, ecological health and healing, and more.

Guest Panelists include (full schedule below):

  • Winona LaDuke, Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg who lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, author, founder of White Earth Land Recovery Project, and the Indigenous Women’s Network.
  • Debra Harry, Kooyooee Dukaddo (Northern Paiute) from the Pyramid Lake Reservation in Nevada, Executive Director, Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism, and Co-Coordinator, North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
  • Louise Benally, Dine’ traditional activist from Big Mountain and health educator.
  • David Bartecchi, Executive Director of Village Earth, program director for Lakota Lands Recovery Project, trainer, organizer.
  • Rick Garcia, manager of The Urban Farm in Denver CO.
  • Mary O’ Brien, herbalist, permaculturist, and educator.
  • The Community Conversation will be co-facilitated by staff from Civic Canopy, a Denver-based inclusive network of partners working together to build stronger neighborhoods, healthier communities, and a more civil society. Furthermore, Civic Canopy will be working with WEC to hold several follow-up sessions with attendees and the general public around the greater Denver-Metro area throughout the year.

For more information and to register visit the Woodbine Ecology Center conference webpage.


It’s hard to believe that it has been nearly 7 years since the start of the Lakota Lands Recovery Project (LLRP). Regular reflection is a cental component to Village Earth’s praxis approach to community empowerment. In the spirit of Paulo Freire, the term praxis refers to an ongoing cycle of analysis, action, and reflection that has the power to reveal the root causes of oppression as well as the path out. The LLRP itself was launched after nearly two years of facilitating meetings across the reservation where we asked community groups about their vision for the future. By in large, this vision was about getting out of the overcrowded and deteriorating government housing projects and back onto their lands. Guided by this vision, the LLRP was formed, serving as a grassroots support organization to grassroots initiatives to recover, protect and utilize their lands on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Allied in praxis with people across the reservation we’ve learned many things about the tangled web of history, policy, bureaucracy, and trauma that Residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation and reservations across this country face on a day to day basis. This has evolved into three central pillars of our strategy; 1. Supporting Lakota’s who are already utilizing their lands, 2. Providing education and outreach on land-recovery, land-use, and 3. Advocating for the rights of Native Americans across the nation to utilize their own lands. Below I’ll try to briefly update you on the ways we are supporting each pillar.

The focus of our efforts for the first pillar has been in supporting the development of the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative (LBCC), a cooperative we helped establish in 2008 to market and distribute grassfed and field harvested buffalo meat raised by Lakota families on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Shortly after it’s incorporation in the State of South Dakota, we helped to form a regional distributor for Northern Colorado Allied Natural Meats (ANM), Ltd. For the past two years, ANM has been buying buffalo raised by the LBCC and distributing throughout Northern Colorado which is helping to generate income for these small producers on the Reservation to cover their expenses and grow their herds. It can also be purchased online at www.lakotabuffalocaretakers.org. We’ve continued our yearly donations of Buffalo in partnership with the Danylchuck Buffalo Ranch in Rye, Colorado. We’ve also been working with a private donor and the Oglala Sioux Tribe Elderly Assistance Program to distribute buffalo meat raised by the LBCC to elders across the reservation. We are happy to announce the re-organization and re-birth of the Lone Buffalo Project. It is now in the control of Henry Red Cloud and his Tiwahe. We are excited that this reorganization will breathe new life and energy into this project. Also, we are looking forward to assisting Virgil Bush to start up a new buffalo ranch on the reservation this fall. Virgil has been a long-time supporter of Buffalo reintroduction on Pine Ridge and after our recent fundraising tour in Germany and Switzerland, we are looking forward to helping him establish a herd of his own.

For the second pillar of our approach, we have recently completed a project in partnership with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF) to simplify the maze of bureaucracy, forms, and applications necessary for Native land-recovery and use across Indian country. This work will be appearing in a forthcoming edition of the “Message Runner,” the ILTF’s newsletter. We also continue our work answering questions and distributing information to Lakota’s interested in consolidating and utilizing their lands. In fact, we have run out of copies of our highly popular strategic land planning manual/atlas. We are currently looking for funding to update and print more copies. This fall, we are also planning on developing an online course in Native Strategic Land Planning to be offered to make this information available to Indian allottees across the country.

Lastly, for the third pillar, we continue to weigh in on the debate regarding Native American land-use, in particular putting pressure on the government to honor their trust responsibility by processing appraisals and land exchange applications in a timely manner, a process that now takes nearly 4 years! We are happy to announce that because of our research, the Head of the BIA acknowledged that the land application “system is broken” at a major conference on Native American Agriculture. We plan to continue raising awareness of the general public and putting pressure on policy makers to lower the barriers for Native Americans to live on and utilize their own lands!


On Friday, September 25, members of the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative (LBCC) will be celebrating the donation of 6 head of buffalo that will be added to their herds. For the 6th consecutive year, Danylchuck Buffalo Ranch, based in Rye, Colorado, will generously donate buffalo to the cooperative. Members of the LBCC will be present at the celebration, making it an exciting opportunity for those interested in learning more about issues of sustainable agriculture, food sovereignty, and Lakota ranching ethics. The event will be free and open to the public, held at the Historic Federal Building, 421 North Main Street, Pueblo, CO.

The Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative is 100% Native American owned and operated, making it (to the best of our knowledge) the only Native American run small family cooperative of buffalo caretakers in the United States. The cooperative is located on the Pine Ridge Reservation, located in South Dakota. All of the meat produced by the group comes from buffalo that are raised on open ranges, grazing on wild grass, and respectfully harvested in the field. This culturally significant and ethical approach to meat production supports the members’ overarching commitments to the restoration of the northern plains ecology, self-sufficiency and strengthening the sovereignty and self-determination of the Oglala Lakota Nation and all indigenous peoples.

After becoming incorporated in the state of South Dakota and having its labels approved by the USDA, the LBCC began selling retail meat last January. The cooperative was the progeny of Village Earth’s (a Fort Collins based NGO, which supports sustainable development through empowerment) Adopt-a-Buffalo project. The project was started as part of Village Earth’s larger vision to support Lakota families in reclaiming and utilizing their legally allotted lands. Due to significant legislation produced in the late 1800s and early 1900s, on Pine Ridge Reservation over 60% of individual Native American land is being leased out, primarily by non-tribal members. Through the Adopt-a-Buffalo initiative, Village Earth helped recover over 2000 acres for buffalo restoration, releasing over 82 head of buffalo onto these lands. Due to the historical and spiritual significance of the buffalo for the Lakota people, Village Earth hopes this project will be a significant step in the process of restoring the reservation’s economy and strengthening cultural pride.

If you have more questions about the event, the LBCC, Village Earth, or any of the larger underlying issues, please contact David Bartecchi at (970) 491-0633 or david@villageearth.org.

Lakota Buffalo Caretakers: A New Paradigm of Agriculture?

3685767798_2b6ec9f73e_bIt is not difficult to argue the case that modern agriculture has reached a crisis stage. We have reached a point where must accept that change must occur, where common-place practices must abandoned, where long established institutions collapse, and ultimately, a new paradigm emerges. It could also be argued that the crisis we are experiencing in modern agriculture is part of a larger crisis evidenced by global warming, the burgeoning divisions between rich and poor, and most recently, the collapse of global capital markets. This can be a disquieting time indeed since, while its clear that change must occur, nobody is quite sure what that change will look like. Speaking about the broader global transition taking place, Colombian born Anthropologist, Arturo Escobar has argued that “Epistemologically this move entails a transition from the dominance of modern science to a plural landscape of knowledge forms. Socially, the transition is between global capitalism and emergent forms of which we only have glimpses in today’s social movements.” Rather, he argues that the emerging social movements, like the growing indigenous rights movement, represents the best hope for reworking many of the problems faced by global capitalism.

In a small way, with our work on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, we are seeing how this “reworking” can manifest. In particular, some of the challenges we have faced in developing a market and supply chain for meat from buffalo raised by a cooperative of Lakota Producers. While, Village Earth has been working to support Lakota buffalo caretakers on Pine Ridge since early 2003, it wasn’t until 2006 when they started talking about forming a cooperative. Over the next few years we had numerous meetings, did our homework, drafted bylaws and articles of incorporation, and by August of 2008 the coop was officially recognized in the State of South Dakota. Less than four months later, the cooperative filled the first order under its label “Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative (LBCC).” To facilitate distribution in northern Colorado (where the best market exists) we helped establish a independently managed L.L.C. Called “Allied Natural Meats.” While it has been less than a year where the coop has been selling its products on the market, we have already learned a great deal where the points of conflict exist between the old paradigm of raising and selling meat, and possibly a new paradigm emerging from the LBCC but informed at a deeper level by the Lakota worldview.

In the dominant paradigm, most livestock, spend only the first six months of their lives in open pastures. After that time they are moved to feedlots where they often have less than 13 square-feet of space per animal, fed a mixture of high-fat grain and ground-up poultry waste until the age of 14 months where they are trucked-off to slaughter houses for processing. While we all may be familiar with this process for cattle, these same practices are bleeding into the buffalo industry, as evidenced by the buffalo feedlot that is being built soon Weld county Colorado, just a few miles from Village Earth’s offices. In fact, most buffalo sold in stores (even health food stores), often spend the last 90 days in a feedlot and then trucked to a slaughter facility, even when they say “grass fed” on the label.

In the Lakota worldview, Buffalo are sacred, and killing one is comparable to killing a human. In fact, one elder explained this to me once by pointing to group of people talking around a fire and asked, “what do you think would happen to the social order of that group over there if we killed three of them?” It is this worldview that makes the notion of sending one to a feedlot an abomination. The Lakota alternative to this is raising buffalo their entire lives on open pastures and respectfully ending their lives in the field. In fact, some families have made this into a sort of right of passage for young men on the reservation, preparing them in ceremony to take the life of the buffalo in a respectful manner. It is said that when this honored, that the animals, within that particular family, are much calmer during the harvest. However, with current USDA regulation, this is a costly way of harvesting animals since it requires the use of a mobile-processing truck to drive out to the pasture so the animals can be gutted and cleaned within 45 minutes of the kill. Yet, despite the fact that the families could be saving approximately $180 per animal by trucking live animals directly to a slaughter facility, and despite the fact that scheduling the truck is very unpredictable, considering it is not able to drive onto their pastures if they are wet or covered in snow, which just this spring caused a 6 week delay in harvesting, despite all this, they have chosen to do it this way.

Another practice that many buffalo ranchers are adopting from the industrial cattle industry is manually weaning calves from their mothers just a few months after they’re born. The advantage that these producers find from doing this is that the calves will start on grain more readily and fatten quicker. However, by doing this you break down the natural clan structure of the buffalo. Bison are herd animals but within each herd there may exist several smaller sub-clans or families. According to legend, the Lakota derived their social structure of the Tiwahe (family) and Tiyospaye (community) from the buffalo. Furthermore, traditional production methods drive producers to harvest their animals at approximately 30 months, the time needed for optimal weight gain. Weaning and always harvesting at the same age destroys the natural social structure of buffalo. According to Ed Iron Cloud from the Knife Chief Buffalo Nation (a member of the LBCC), “it’s like having a bunch of adolescents running around, you NEED the older bulls to protect the herd and you need to elders to keep the social order.” A social principle mirrored in the Lakota culture.

While these are just a few anecdotes, I think they illustrate some of the conflicts that exist between the old paradigm and possibly a new one emerging. One thing that I have really learned from these experiences is that the connecting tissue in this entire system is the consumer. As its name implies, Allied Natural Meats is committed to working with the LBCC to find ways around these conflicts – to “rework” things as Escobar would say. A large part of this has been educating retailers and consumers about why the meat costs more than typical buffalo meat or why things may be delayed a few weeks. This has allowed the LBCC to raise the buffalo in a way that is consistent with their worldview. If in some way this represents a small transference of worldviews that might contribute to the broader social transformation that Escobar has theorized is unclear. What is clear to me is that we can not rely solely on science and the market to solve the problems we face today. Many these problems were already worked-out centuries ago, the answers have just been suppressed, erroneously delegitimized and/or taken for granted. The best way for us to uncover these answers is to work as allies, and rework these lines of conflict.

For more information about the LBCC visit their website at: http://www.lakotabuffalocaretakers.org/

To learn more about Village Earth’s work on the Pine Ridge Reservation visit: http://landing.villageearth.org/pages/Projects/Pine_Ridge/index.php

More Buffalo Delivered to Pine Ridge

This weekend, Village Earth delivered 7 more buffalo to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. These buffalo were donated by the Danylchuck Buffalo Ranch in Rye, Colorado . This is the 5th year that the Danylchuck’s have donated buffalo to Lakota buffalo ranchers on Pine Ridge. We loaded the buffalo as soon as the sun rose Saturday morning and were quickly on the road, headed north to South Dakota. All the animals received the necessary vaccinations and certifications for interstate travel.

The Adopt-A-Buffalo program is part of Village Earth’s larger initiative to support Lakota families to recover their lands from the BIA leasing program and utilize them on their own. Currently, over 60% of the Pine Ridge Reservation is being leased out, oftentimes to non-tribal members for a fraction of their value while Lakota families struggle to find regular employment.