As with many other Native American tribes, bison are an extremely important symbol of spiritual strength and endurance to the Utes. Historically, bison were also important for the day-to-day survival of the people, providing essential food and hides for clothing and shelter. The Utes first started pursuing bison when the Spanish brought horses to the West in the early 1800s. Horses allowed the Utes to leave their homes in the Rocky Mountains and venture into the eastern plains to successfully harvest bison. Today, the bison remains an important spiritual symbol to the Utes and it plays a significant role in the annual Ute Sun Dance and other religious ceremonies.
Since the early 1980s, the Southern Ute Tribe has managed a small herd of bison, primarily for cultural preservation and nutritional/dietary purposes. The Division of Wildlife Resource Management maintains the herd at approximately 40 head within a 350-acre fenced pasture near Ignacio, Colorado. Bison are culled from the herd every year in order to provide meat for the Tribal membership, powwows, and other Tribal functions. Also, the non-meat portions of the culled bison, such as hides and skulls, are utilized and distributed by the Tribe’s Culture Department in accordance with Ute traditional values and beliefs. In addition to herd management, the Division works closely with the Southern Ute Academy and other local schools in the Ignacio area on providing educational presentations on the importance of bison to Ute culture. School groups are often given tours of the Tribal bison herd, providing a valuable opportunity to observe and learn about bison behavior.