Last weekend, two Yellowstone National Park bison bulls migrated all the way to Oklahoma.

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Yellowstone National Park bison bull blocks traffic in Hayden Valley.Photo byMeet My Neighbor Productions, Inc.

Did you know that bison once migrated as much as one thousand miles every year? It’s unfathomable to think about the great range of bison just as recent as one hundred years ago. Go back another hundred years and bison were reported to be in “healthy” population numbers all the way up the east coast.

Each year, bison migrate out of Yellowstone National Park in fact earlier this month 13 bison were killed by a tractor trailer as they migrated outside the western boundary of the park, it was just like a scene out of the Yellowstone TV show in season 5.

Clearly in modern day, bison cannot simply roam the way they once had. That said two bison bulls made it from Yellowstone National Park to Fairfax Oklahoma last weekend. However, their trek wasn’t a traditional migration. But the story is equally fascinating.

One thousand miles is a long way to travel. Last weekend two men traveled one thousand miles each to meet each other in Fairfax Oklahoma on the Osage Nation. In fact they didn’t even speak on the phone until hours before the meet up.

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Troy Heinert Executive Director of the InterTribal Buffalo Council arrives on the Osage Native American Reservation in Fairfax Oklahoma.Photo byMeet My Neighbor Productions, Inc.

Driving through the night, Troy Heinert, a State Senator and minority leader for the State of South Dakota traveled from Rapid City South Dakota to numerous tribes delivering bison from Yellowstone National Park.

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Troy Heinert Executive Director of the InterTribal Buffalo Council.Photo byMeet My Neighbor Productions, Inc.

Coming over one thousand miles from North Carolina, Charlie Rankin from Meet My Neighbor Productions traveled over night to meet Troy for his last drop on the Osage Indian Reservation and film the delivery for a bison documentary film called Native The Prodigies of an Icon.

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"On Set" Troy Heinert explaining how the bison will react and where they will go when the trailer doors are opened.Photo byMeet My Neighbor Productions, Inc.

“When you think about it, two men who have never met driving one thousand miles each to meet each other in a place neither has ever been because of an animal, says a lot about the animal and it’s significance. Bison have a way of uniting and connecting people. Probably one of it’s greatest attributes of being our National Mammal” said Charlie Rankin.

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Yellowstone National Park bison bull on Troy Heinert's trailer.Photo byMeet My Neighbor Productions, Inc.

Along with being a State Senator and rodeo cowboy, Troy Heinert is the Executive Director of an organization called the InterTribal Buffalo Council. The InterTribal Buffalo Council is restoring buffalo to the Indian Country, to preserve historical, cultural, traditional and spiritual relationships for future generations. The group includes over fifty tribes nationwide and has working relationships with the National Park Service and groups like The Nature Conservancy to obtain and disburse bison for free to tribes.

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Yellowstone bison bulls released on Osage Nation via the InterTribal Buffalo Council.Photo byMeet My Neighbor Productions, Inc.

The bison being delivered to the tribes to help their bison programs grow are coming from some of the most sought after genetics in the industry. These impressive animals are being relocated from parks and conservation herds that have reached capacity to help establish additional herds on tribal lands and the InterTribal Buffalo Council is making it happen.

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Yellowstone National Park bison bulls running through Osage Nation Ranch paddocks.Photo byMeet My Neighbor Productions, Inc.

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Osage tribal members greet their new bison bulls from Yellowstone National Park.Photo byMeet My Neighbor Productions, Inc.

“The ITBC (InterTribal Buffalo Council) is doing a lot more than just tribal work,” said Charlie “they are conducting research programs that will help the entire bison and cattle industry.”

While in Oklahoma, Charlie and Troy visited a herd of one hundred bison calves in a secure facility off the reservation that will be studied in a USDA funded research program for a common bovine disease that is extremely difficult to manage.

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Troy Heinert inspects the research bison herd of 100 calves in Oklahoma.Photo byMeet My Neighbor Productions, Inc.

“There hasn’t been a study like this done yet, so their findings will be critical to how animals that have come in contact with this disease can be managed and eventually reintroduced. It will also tell us more about the diseases behavior and what management practices can be implemented to prevent it. This is extremely important for everyone in the bovine industry or conservation arena, not just the tribes” Charlie Rankin explained.

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Troy Heinert photographs the 100 bison calves entered into the InterTribal Buffalo Council bovine disease research program.Photo byMeet My Neighbor Productions, Inc.

This wasn’t the first time Charlie has traveled over one thousand miles to film a few bison. Charlie and Shauna Rankin of Meet My Neighbor Productions have traveled from Maine to West Virginia, North Carolina, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, and even Ohio to film bison for the documentary.

“Filming is far from complete. We started at the end of 2021 and will continue throughout 2023, in fact 2023 will be the most intense year of filming as we wrap up the United States and cover Canada” explained Charlie.

Meet My Neighbor Productions plans to revisit Osage in 2023 along with Texas, South Dakota, and expand into the northwestern United States.

“Our goal is to film ranchers, tribal herds, and conservation herds in every ecosystem across North America, to really illustrate and help people visualize the bisons’ modern day presence and its impacts on a variety of cultures” said Charlie.

NATIVE | The Prodigies of an Icon is feature documentary film project about North America’s most iconic mammal, the American Bison (aka Buffalo). The film features ranchers and indigenous producers across North America and Native American Territories.

The bison documentary aims to highlight the history of Bison and it’s relationship with mankind, the regenerative significance Bison has on our ecology, and the industry that has made it’s comeback both possible and economically sustainable in a modern world.

Together bison ranchers, conservationists, and indigenous people are running one of the largest conservation programs in the world. They have reestablished a species from the brink of extinction while restoring, managing, and protecting grasslands that are essential to our ecosystem all while developing an industry that is contributing to everything from food security to clothing.

The objective of the film project is to create a documentary and social movement that entices viewers to support the bison community through their purchasing and donation decisions and to ultimately help them recognize the role that they can play in repopulating and maintain this incredible keystone species in a modern world.

Connecting the benefits of Bison to the ecology is an essential part of the documentary. To illustrate the Bison’s environmental impact and accessibility across the continent the film will cover ranches and conservation programs throughout the entire North American continent providing viewers with local and regional programs and resources.

Over the years, documentaries have often fallen victim to special interest narratives. It’s the prerogative of the producers of the documentary to document and share the truth. “Our perspectives of this incredible animal and the community behind it have changed dramatically from the day we first stuck the key in the ignition and started filming. The bison is much more impactful than we ever imagined” said co-producer Charlie Rankin.

“As our team has ventured down the road of documenting the bison’s story, we’ve discovered another almost mystic hallmark of this extraordinary species. Beyond it’s naturally regenerative influence on our ecosystem, or its remarkable story of survival against our best efforts to eliminate it. The bison has managed to unite people of varying political, ethnic, and extreme culturally diverse backgrounds into a single cause even during disruptive social, political, and economical times. It started as a story about a mammal and has evolved into a story of healing of our land, people, and nations” Charlie explained.

NATIVE | The Prodigies of an Icon is a documentary completely narrated and funded by the bison community and it’s supporters.

Filming is set to continue through 2023 with post production in 2024. The producers have not yet identified a distribution partner but plan to do so by the end of 2023.

“It’s important to us that we get this story out to as many people as possible. Whether that means a distribution with Netflix, PBS, Fox Nation, or other local networks it yet to be determined” said Charlie Rankin.

One things for sure, we’ll finally hear the complete story of the bison’s comeback. To learn more about the documentary visit bison.meetmyneighbor.org.

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