Buffalo, American Bison, whatever you call it most of the time it is good eats. Well most of the time but I will get to that later in this post. The buffalo provided, food, tools, shelter, ceremonial items. We had/have a use for every part of the buffalo. It was impossible to use every part of every buffalo but we did our best to reduce waste back in the day.
Buffalo is delicious and very healthy for you. It is leaner that skin less chicken breasts and have more vitamins and good stuff for you. Our people were strong and that is because of our relationship with the buffalo. The strength of the buffalo is our strength and it was also our greatest weakness. The destruction of the great buffalo herds at the end of the 1800’s spelled our doom and downfall as well. The recovery of the buffalo matches the recovery of the Lakota people as well. We are connected in every way possible.
I eat buffalo whenever possible and so does my wife, but that was not always the case. Jonette refused to eat buffalo for many years and considering her introduction I really can not blame her.
Back in the Mid 90’s we were in Wanblee SD for ceremony. During prep Charles decided that we should get a buffalo so he took up donations. Every camp pitched in a few dollars and we had enough for a buffalo. I was excited, Jonette had never eaten buffalo and I wanted to introducer her to it.
about 20 of us formed a caravan and drove out to the tribal herd and met up with Alex. Charles handed over the money and Alex got his rifle. Off we went to find the herd and Charles could pick out his buffalo. The herd was not far away and Charles looked over it and quickly chose the biggest oldest bull buffalo he could see. “I want that one!” he said while pointing at the poor beast. Alex put the rifle to his shoulder.
That old bull jumped about 2 feet into the air and disappeared with the other buffalo over the ridge. We were told to stay and wait where we were as Alex, Charles and a couple of others took a truck with a small trailer out to gather the old bull. It was hit but did not drop. It was not long before the truck came back with the now very dead bull loaded onto the trailer.
It was now our turn to try to butcher the animal. I have never butchered anything before and it soon became very obvious that no one else in our group had any more experience that I did. I like getting my food from a store. food from the store is cut for you and on plastic plates. food on the bone and under skin and hair is another thing all together.
We started to carefully skin the poor animal. Charles was doing his best to make sure we did not pierce the hide with our knives. We all struggled and pulled in a short time we were covered in blood and flies. The flies bit and stung. Sometime in the middle of our misery and struggles someone punctured the stomach. The contents spilled out on the tarp under the buffalo. Many in the group also lost their stomach contents as the smell rose up from the mess. Luckily the full on vomithon was reduced to dry heaves and we got the buffalo quartered and packed for transport back to camp.
Back at camp I cleaned up and waited for my share of the buffalo. I was telling Jonette about how wonderful it would be and the next day I was handed a small package of streaks. I was so excited I forgot the rules and threw the steaks on the grate over the very hot fire.
The results were disastrous. that old bull was so full of testosterone from its age and adrenaline from its two mile run over the ridge the meat stank and it tasted even worse because I had seriously overcooked it. It was inedible. Unfortunately I was not quick enough to keep Jonette from trying to eat a piece.
It was years before I could get her to try buffalo again.
As I mentioned above Buffalo is a fantastic food, but it must be handled carefully. Never ever cook buffalo over medium, and always cook it with low heat. If you try to cook buffalo to well done or cook it too fast it will become shoe leather. Buffalo burgers are notorious for being dry and tasteless, this is because it was cooked poorly. Yes buffalo is a very lean meat sometimes you can add moisture by making your burger patties with a small bit of butter in the center of the hamburger patty.
The other most common way to eat buffalo is in stew. Buffalo stew with fry bread and wojapi is my comfort food.
I have been asked more than once about the ethics of eating buffalo. They claim that buffalo are endangered and should not be eaten. I counter that the reason buffalo exist is for us to consume them and use them to best of our ability. In fact the best week to keep buffalo from going extinct is to eat them, Cows, chickens, pigs, and turkeys are not going the way of the dodo bird any time in the near future. Eating more buffalo will help to remove the last barrier to mass consumption, Cost.
Buffalo is expensive, crazy expensive because it is considered a specialty meat. Buffalo tastes better than cattle, it is far healthier than cattle, more environmentally friendly than cattle. Eating buffalo is a win for us and for the buffalos themselves.
One of the best ways to eat buffalo is in an energy bar called a Tanka Bar. They are sold by Native American Natural Foods, LLC based on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Tanka Bars are based off an old traditional recipie for wasna. The original wasna was dried buffalo meat pounded with fat and choke cherries. Today’s version is a delicious smoked buffalo and cranberry offering that comes in traditional and spicy. No no don’t walk away, seriously it is really good. I have gotten many people all across the nation to try them and every single person has replied that they are excellent. Native American Natural Foods, LLC also makes Tanka bites, bite sized tanka bars. Tanka Wild, slim jim like beef sticks, and buffalo hot dogs.
Not only are they making fabulous food for anyone to enjoy they are working to improve conditions in Kyle and the Pine Ridge reservation as a whole. Go here Tanka Bar Store Locator and see if you can buy Tanka Bars in your town. If not you can order online from www.tankabar.com
By eating Tanka products you not only help yourself but you help buffalo, and a deserving community.