Before buffalo were nearly driven from the Great Plains forever, Indian people relied on this animal to meet their basic needs for food, shelter, clothing and ceremony. In this way, the buffalo sustained American Indian people for thousands of years.
Today, Indian reservations in the Great Plains are some of the poorest communities in the U.S. For example, the per capita income of Shannon County on the Pine Ridge Reservation is $7,772, where over 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty level, and employment opportunities are virtually nonexistent. And yet, the 20 or so people (mostly non-Indian) who lease nearly half of the land on Pine Ridge through the federal leasing system are doing just fine. According to a 2007 USDA Census, the market value of agricultural commodities produced on Pine Ridge totaled $54.5 million, yet less than one-third of that income went to American Indian producers.
For Indian people in the Great Plains, buffalo ranching and production provides an opportunity to participate in the fast growing buffalo market.