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Bringing back the buffalo

Dozens of First Nations leaders from across Canada and the United States were on hand this week in Banff, Alta., to witness the signing of an historic treaty.

The Stoney Nakoda Nation signed the "Buffalo Treaty" at the 2015 Banff Indian Days and elders say it is a significant moment for members.

The treaty is a collective agreement to honour and recognize the relationship that First Nations have with the buffalo and the importance of providing free range habitat on traditional lands.

It is the first treaty in more than 150 years to be signed among U.S. tribes and Canadian First Nations.

Buffalo were nearly wiped out in the 19th century, and the expansion of the human population across the plains fragmented the herds for more than a century.

The goal of the treaty is to restore the buffalo population on reserve land, which makes up more than 2.6 million hectares across North America.

“We hang on as best we can to our culture, our pipes, our bundles, our language but we’re losing the context," said Paulette Fox of southern Alberta's Blood Tribe.

"A lot of our ceremonies come from the buffalo and without the buffalo, without seeing the buffalo, directly relating to the buffalo, it’s difficult to really pass on those teachings to our young people."

"There's very few opportunities left in North America where we can put these animals back in their native range and Banff is a huge opportunity to do that," said Wes Olson, a former park warden.

In March, Banff National Park signed on to be the first national park to reintroduce wild plains bison into the area.

Young buffalo will be moved into a fenced area in Banff over the next 18 months but the fences will be taken away once the animals are acclimated and then they'll be allowed to roam freely after that.

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