Where do the buffalo roam these days?

Hello Flatlanders,

Happy Tuesday. Can you believe it’s December tomorrow? Time flies, even while living through a global pandemic.

New features

In addition to the topic of the week, I’ve added a new section to this newsletter, which I hope you’ll find valuable. It is a round up of five stories you may have missed from Manitoba and Saskatchewan last week.

I’ve also shared some recommended readings on this week’s topic, because when I’m researching an issue, even in a big-picture-kind-of way, I come across a lot of fascinating articles that some of you might want to read for yourself.

Local, independent, in-depth.

Our Prairie stories.

Speaking of which, a reader, last week, recommended a few books on poverty that offer a different perspective, so I will link to those below as well, for those who may be interested.

So where do those buffalo roam?

Not in North America, despite what the song Home on the Range would have us believe. If you want to see a real live buffalo you will have to go to Africa to see the Cape buffalo or Asia that is home to the water buffalo.

What people call buffalo in North America are, in fact, bison, which have bigger heads than buffalo, beards, thick winter coats, which they shed in the summer, and humps on their backs. Both the Cape buffalo and the water buffalo have much longer horns.

This week I thought I would talk about bison, or, as it is called by its scientific name, bison bison, because you may have seen in the news this month that the animals at Wanuskewin in Saskatoon helped discover a petroglyph carved in the form of an animal rib. A stone knife was discovered next to the rock, which is a rare find.

The bison hooves turned up the dirt, which revealed the rock.

You can read about the discovery here:

Bison in Canada Discover Ancient Petroglyphs, Fulfilling an Indigenous Prophecy, Smithsonian

Before this news, I’d already started doing my own research on bison after my husband and I began debating over whether buffalo and bison are the same animal after watching a documentary series called Chiefs recently, which I highly recommend.

The two episodes, about Sitting Bull, which sparked the discussion, can be found on YouTube (Episode 1 and Episode 2). It originally aired on the Saskatchewan Communications Network (May it rest in peace).

What about the beefalo?

That’s a cross between male domestic cattle and bison.

Apparently, most bison herds in North America have been mixed with cattle at some point over the last hundred years or so.

There are only about 1,500 purebred plains bison in Canada’s conservation herds.

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Bringing back the purebreds

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon are working to increase the genetic gene pool of purebred bison.

They’ve been creating a genome biobank that allows bison semen and embryos to be stored, which will be used to expand herds.

The goal is to replace the beefalo, for lack of a better word, with purebreds over the next 20 years, which would improve the animal’s health.

Grasslands National Park, about 330 km southwest of Regina, is home to one of Canada’s few purebred Plains bison herds.

They’re originally from the forested Elk Island National Park, east of Edmonton, which has both Plains bison and wood bison.

Moving Plains bison to a more traditional landscape, like the Grasslands, has improved their overall well-being. They are fatter, healthier, and breeding more than the Plains bison left behind at Elk Island. The Grasslands herd grows by about 28 per cent a year.

Why did bison almost go extinct?

It’s estimated that 500 years ago about 30 million to 60 million bison were in North America in the 1500s.

By the late 1800s, there were only roughly 1,000 bison left because of government policies that encouraged settlers to hunt the animals in excess, mainly to demoralize and starve Indigenous people, who relied on them as one of their main food sources. Doing this helped them agree to move onto reservations.

Bison hides were, for a time, quite valuable, until so many were killed by hunters the price was driven down.

Systematically killing the bison also cleared the path for trains, which would frequently collide with the beasts.

Increased agricultural activity didn’t help, as it destroyed bison habitat.

Where can I see bison today?


My top five reading list on bison

Here are my top five articles I came across about bison, for those interested in broader Prairie history and wildlife.


Top five stories from Manitoba you may have missed

Winnipeg city council passes poverty reduction plan

Mayor Brian Bowman says the plan is to use existing resources in a more strategic way to solve poverty. Time will tell if this will be successful. I’ll keep tabs on this to see how it works out.

Manitoba prioritizes reconcilation

Premier Heather Stefanson said in last week’s throne speech that one of her priorities was creating a path to reconciliation with First Nations and Métis. To show that the Conservatives were serious, there was an Indigenous land acknowledgement at the beginning of Monday’s legislative assembly proceedings. Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said this was long overdue.

A nursing crisis

A third of Manitoba’s nursing positions are vacant, which works out to about 1,300 empty nursing positions. Health Minister Audrey Gordon is hoping the 115 nursing graduates from the University of Manitoba this year will choose to stay in the province, and that more than 1,200 international nurses have applied for a provincial licence. (I’ll have to look at how hard it is to have an international licence approved).

A bizarre natural phenomenon

Lake Manitoba looked like it had been covered by stones, which is because the water remained liquid below its normal freezing point as it was moved around the wind before eventually turning to ice.

Mental health pilot project for those in emergency crisis

Winnipeg is trying a new pilot project that will have a person suffering from a mental health crisis be visited by a clinician after police go in first to make sure the situation is safe. However, critics believe police shouldn’t be involved in such interventions.

Top five stories from Saskatchewan you may have missed

A monster of a find

Saskatchewan paleontologists at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum announced last week they found a 32-foot snake-like marine reptile in Grassland National Park back in 2012… so far they’ve dug up the lower jaw, the skull and half of the neck. They anticipate they will uncover more this summer.

The cost of climate change

According to a survey by the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, about 75 per cent of respondents weren’t able to fulfill their grain contracts “due to historically low yields” meaning these farmers will have to pay $20,000 to $30,000 in penalties to grain contracts. Meanwhile, the Saskatchewan government spent $700 million supporting drought-affected farmers, which has helped push up the province’s debt load to an estimated $2.74 billion. (Note: an earlier version had a typo that read $2.74 million. That’s my bad, so apologies).

History may be in the making

Saskatchewan voted to amend the Constitution because of a civil trial with Canadian PacificThe province wants to remove a section that exempts CP from paying certain taxes. The exemption was first put into legislation in 1881 after Canada and CP reached an agreement to build a transcontinental railway. CP is suing because it wants  $341 million in tax returns, which is owed as part of this exemption. This issue will move to Ottawa, but if Saskatchewan is successful it will be the first time in history that the Saskatchewan Act and the Constitution would be amended with a motion beginning in the provincial legislature.

A #MeToo victory

Women in Saskatchewan successfully lobbied the Saskatchewan Party government to include sexual harassment in the province’s employment act. Last week, government introduced legislation that will cover any unwelcome action from independent contractors, students, and volunteers, as well as Uber drivers, musicians, models and people in the performing arts. If passed, Saskatchewan will be one of five provinces to specifically reference sexual harassment in legislation. The others are Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.

Conserving native grassland near Moose Jaw

The Nature Conservancy of Canada took over 646 hectares of endangered native grassland and wetlands in Saskatchewan off the Trans-Canada in between Moose Jaw and Swift Current. The area is along the eastern shore of Chaplin Lake, the second-largest salt lake in Canada, which is of hemispheric importance to shorebirds.

A small win

Last week, The Flatlander beat Global Regina to what was basically the same story on poverty. In journalism, we call that a scoop, even when those problems and statistics have been available for some time, and we just haven’t gotten around to looking at them yet.

In my experience, in the newsrooms I’ve worked in, we never did much in-depth reporting on poverty, so over the last week, I’ve been digging past the surface on that issue, and I’ve been starting to unravel the threads, so to speak, and see where they lead. I’ve been doing the same with how climate change is affecting local family farms, which was mentioned in The Flatlander’s first issue.

I’ve been starting to think of these newsletters as an opportunity, while taking a surface view of an issue, to read through reports, studies and at what other journalism outlets have written, which has allowed me to step back and start connecting some dots that I wouldn’t normally be able do while working the day-to-day news grind where you’re trying to get two, three, sometimes even four stories done in a day.

Which is why I’ve been interested in the slow journalism movement, to take one’s time in putting the pieces together, so I will keep you up to date with what I find out.

And then there are the solutions

As a journalist, I’m trained to expose problems, but news media doesn’t do a good job at also reporting on possible solutions, so readers can assess these possibilities for themselves. Who are the people trying to fix our region? How much do these solutions cost? What are the other alternatives? I plan to try to do more of that kind of reporting as well as The Flatlander grows.

This is what is referred to in “the biz” as solutions journalism.

Books on poverty

In October, I did a small informal survey of people in Manitoba and Saskatchewan in what regional independent news should look like. One thing people mentioned is they are interested in being pointed towards different ideas, even if they don’t agree with those ideas.

Last week, a Flatlander reader wrote this:

May I suggest you read anything written by Thomas Sowell or Walter Williams. Both came out of poverty in big city America. There is the politics of poverty.

I looked them up. They are both American economists. And, so for those of you interested in different ideas, I thought I’d pass their names on.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell was a Marxist radicalized into a free-market libertarian and works at Stanford University. There’s a biography about him I’m going to try to pick up, because his life sounds fascinating. (There are no affiliate marketing links in this email, for the record). Sowell is 91 and still working.

Here’s an overview of his more recent books. The reviewer does a good job of “arguing” with him, and I think it provides a balanced assessment:

Here’s why poor people are poor, says a conservative black academic, Washington Post

Walter Williams

Walter Williams worked at George Mason University. He died last year. Here is his obituary from the New York TImes:

Walter E. Williams, 84, Dies; Conservative Economist on Black Issues

He was a believer in the free market and opposed socialist systems of government intervention.

I tried to see if I could find comparable figures in Canada, but I couldn’t. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

I did find this book by a former Canadian senator by Hugh Segal: Bootstraps Need Boots: One Tory’s Lonley Fight to End Poverty in Canada.

As always, if you found this newsletter interesting, please forward it to anyone else you think might appreciate it.

Thanks for reading.

Cheers and kind regards,

Kelly-Anne Riess

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