Dan Murphy: When Activists Get "Buffaloed"

Plans for construction of a packing plant for bison raised by Native tribes in Oklahoma is good news for tribal members. ( Wiki )

Plans for construction of a packing plant to handle bison raised by Native tribes in Oklahoma is not only good news for tribal members, but the ultimate squelch for animal rights protestors.

I love stories such as the one summarized below, which details entrepreneurial efforts to build a small-scale meat processing plant.

For one, there needs to be many more such plants put into operation if the market for grassfed, locally raised, single-source and specialty-breed meat products is to achieve its potential for continued growth.

Second, and this is totally personal, when the livestock involved are bison and the operators are members of Native tribes, there’s not a damn thing activists can say or do to discredit the project or the principals involved.

Here’s the details:

According to several news reports, a tribal official representing two Native American tribes in Oklahoma announced plans to construct a packing plant that would support marketing meat from the tribal nations’ bison herd to consumers.

Nathan Hart, business director for the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, told the (Oklahoma City) Journal Record newspaper that a restaurant to be housed at the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum being developed in Oklahoma City would be a foodservice outlet for the plant’s bison-meat entrees.

Hart said the USDA-inspected processing plant is being built in El Reno, Okla., a city of about 17,000 people 25 miles west of Oklahoma City and so squarely situated in the state’s so-called tornado alley that the surrounding area was used for filming scenes in the 1996 disaster flick “Twister.”

Other than that threat, which is ever-present for many business operations in the Sooner State, the new USDA-inspected processing plant offers some serious potential benefits to the tribes and the neighboring communities. Although it’s being engineered chiefly for processing bison from the tribal herd, which currently numbers about 400 animals, the planned facility on some 150 acres would also be equipped to process cattle and game animals, Hart said.

Plus, the Oklahoma tribes’ livestock program already has developed supply chains for bison meat to be retailed in dozens of eastern Oklahoma grocery stores.

“When we started this [project], we had a smaller processing facility in mind,” Hart said, “but as we’ve stepped out and let more people know what we’re doing, the plan expanded up to 3,000 animals per year.”

Hart also said that tribal officials have been in contact with other producers in Oklahoma and would be positioned to meet their processing needs, as well.

No downside whatsoever

Of course, the Cheyenne and Arapaho aren’t the only Native nations to cultivate bison herds for their own consumption and to generate revenue and create jobs for tribal members. As the newspaper noted, the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma operates a cattle company that annually markets around 20,000 pounds of beef and bison meat to the Quapaw Public Schools, while also donating meat to area food banks, day care centers, churches and the Quapaw Tribe’s Title V nutritional programs.

So, what can activists do to fit programs such as the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Quapaw Nations’ bison-rearing programs under the umbrella of condemnation they unfurl to demonize everything associated with animal agriculture?

Their options are virtually nonexistent.

Pretend that raising bison contributes to animal cruelty? If so, then they would be arguing that 30,000 years of Native cultural and spiritual practice is null and void and its supplanting by 20th century factory foods manufactured from ingredients that didn’t even exist in pre-Columbian times is somehow a good thing.

Not only that, but even hinting that it represents “progress” to replace a Native American dietary staple with vegetarian alternatives smacks of the racist efforts of the 19th century to “eradicate the Indian” by mandating that the surviving populations on reservations attend white schools, learn English and adopt Western foods, clothing and religious practices.

I’d love to debate any activist who’d try to defend that misguided horror show of ethnocentrism.

Or maybe activists could play the eco-disaster card, that livestock are destroying the Earth, a fallacy belied by the reality that vast numbers of bison roamed North America for millennia — until the ancestors of today’s animal activist showed up to slaughter the herds to near-extinction.

Somehow, the Earth didn’t melt down from the (alleged) environmental destruction wrought by a bison herd that once numbered in excess of 40 million animals.

Of perhaps activists would try to leverage the corporatization of the meat industry, arguing that consolidation of both supply and packing plant capacity has had negative effects on rural economies. That argument is easily demolished: Building a local packing plant is the solution to the loss of jobs in rural America as feeding and processing have shifted from smaller regional plants to larger centralized facilities.

And let’s not forget that bison meat is acknowledged by both conventional dieticians and tribal healers alike as a highly nutritious food that has, in fact, been shown to improve people’s well-being, as well as provide a valuable, low-fat protein source.

Any way you care to slice it, raising bison, processing the meat locally and using it to supplement the diets of both tribal members and the adjacent rural communities is a win-win-win for all concerned.

The only downside — and this is just me — is that nobody in the animal rights community ever wants to debate the issue of raising bison and selling the meat.

I would literally salivate over such an opportunity.

The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, an award-winning journalist and commentator.

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