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Elk Research Project Meetings on Wind River Reservation Feb. 27-28

February 21, 2018
tanned elk hide with paintings on it
Elk research projects on the Wind River Indian Reservation will explore connections between elk migration and the cultural significance of elk, such as this elk hide depicting a bison hunt, painted in the mid-1800s by Shoshone artist Cadzi Cody. (Benjamin Freedman Photo)

The University of Wyoming High Plains American Indian Research Institute (HPAIRI) will host community meetings in Fort Washakie and Ethete to introduce two separate but related research projects investigating the cultural significance and migratory behavior of elk on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

These meetings will be an opportunity for community members to connect with researchers working on these projects and to ask any questions they may have.

The first meeting is 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27, in the Buffalo Room at Rocky Mountain Hall in Fort Washakie.

The second meeting is 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 28, in the Wyoming Indian High School Tech Center auditorium near Ethete.

The meetings will be hosted by HPAIRI, whose mission is to facilitate research relationships between UW researchers and tribal communities that support and sustain tribal sovereignty and have long-term, positive results for Native people. HPAIRI emphasizes tribal sovereignty by, among other things, advocating for tribal research needs and interests in the research process and assisting researchers in following tribal protocols.

“These meetings are part of that process, to hear what the local communities’ interests are regarding research,” says James Trosper, director of HPAIRI and the Native American Education, Research and Cultural Center at UW. “This is the model we want to start following when we talk about improving how research is done on the Wind River Indian Reservation.”

At the meetings, researchers will introduce the cultural project, titled “Understanding and Communicating the Role of Elk on the Wind River Indian Reservation” (UCR Elk Project). UCR Elk is a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded collaboration among HPAIRI, Fremont County School Districts 14 and 21, and the Wyoming Humanities Council. Both the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone have long-standing relationships with elk, which are important tribal ancestors with spiritual, economic, political, social, linguistic and artistic dimensions.

UCR Elk is a three-year research project through which tribal and UW researchers will discover, understand and communicate the ways in which tribal peoples have known, and still know and celebrate, elk and their migrations through stories, songs and traditions. This cultural research will incorporate biological information collected by the migration research project described below.

Jordan Dresser, project site coordinator, will work with tribal partners to lead efforts to identify existing knowledge and incorporate it into schools and communities on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Outcomes likely will include a website and social media presence, curriculum for Wind River Indian Reservation schools and a tribally developed digital archive hosted by UW’s Coe Library.

“With tribal members taking the lead, and by integrating humanities and biological research, ‘Understanding and Communicating the Role of Elk on the Wind River Indian Reservation’ will create an innovative ‘Indian Education for All’ curriculum in Wyoming,” says Judith Antell, UCR Elk project director.

herd of elk on the prairie
Community meetings will introduce two research projects investigating the cultural significance and migratory behavior of elk on the Wind River Indian Reservation. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Photo)

Separately, the migration project aims to track elk and mule deer using GPS collars, gathering information to improve wildlife management and hunting opportunities for tribal members. In mid-March, biologists will place collars on elk and mule deer on winter range across the reservation, enabling them to track migration of the animals into the mountains during summer.

“The migration information we gain from this study will help the Tribal Fish and Game program with management of wildlife, habitat areas and populations,” says Art Lawson, Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game director. “If we have a better understanding of elk and mule deer winter range, and the migration corridors they use each spring and fall, we will have more opportunity to protect what we have left and benefit the wildlife and tribal members.”

The migration study is conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wyoming Migration Initiative at UW, in close collaboration with Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game, which will use the data to better understand seasonal ranges and migration corridors. The Nature Conservancy of Wyoming is collaborating on the effort to map migration corridors.

Integrating humanities and biological science research on the significance of elk and their migration on the Wind River Indian Reservation will provide students and tribal communities with a broad, integrative and innovative educational experience.

“Ultimately, this collaborative research effort strives to do what the elders encourage us to do -- watch the animals, because they have valuable lessons to teach us,” Antell says.

The community meetings are open to the public, and stew and fry bread will be served afterward. If you plan to attend, consider calling the Tribal Fish and Game Office at (307) 332-7207 so organizers can get a head count for seating and the meal.

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