By SARA BERTSCH
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A country’s national animal is often an iconic image of the country, its people and their way of life.
In the United States, it’s the bald eagle, which is described as majestic and legendary.
Some countries have designated multiple animals as the symbol of their country, like Mexico, which honors an arthropod, mammal, marine mammal and even a national dog.
Some are more whimsical: The national animal of Scotland is the unicorn.
And now the United States may have more than one national animal too.
At the end of June, a bill was re-introduced in the U.S. House to designate the bison as the national mammal of the United States. It’s called the National Bison Legacy Act.
This bill was introduced for a second time in the House by Reps. William Lacy Clay of Missouri, Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, Jose Serrano of New York and South Dakota’s Kristi Noem.
“Bison are an ever-present figure within American history,” Noem said in a statement. “Naming this iconic animal as our national mammal is an appropriate way to solidify their place as an enduring American symbol.”
Not only are bison a figure of American history, they appear in several different forms across the country. They are present on Wyoming and Kansas’ state flag. And they are on the seal of the Department of the Interior. They have appeared on U.S. currency. And they are the mascot for several sports teams - including North Dakota State University.
The Inter Tribal Buffalo Council, based out of Rapid City, is dedicated to restoring buffaloes in tribal lands since 1992. The council does this in a way that is compatible with the spiritual, cultural beliefs and practices.
Jim Stone, the director of the ITBC, told the Argus Leader (http://argusne.ws/1SmNK4R ) that the act is a cooperative effort involving the council, the National Bison Association and the Wildlife Conservation Society to get this act passed.
“The bison deserves respect and recognition,” Stone said. “There really is no other species that deserves the title of national mammal more.”
The National Bison Legacy Act came out of a slightly smaller plan. Initially, there was only going to be a day dedicated to bison in the first week of November, which is also Native American Heritage month. It changed to a national mammal designation.
Becoming the national animal is just one goal supporters hope to obtain. Eventually, Stone said, they hope to develop curriculum around bison and incorporate the idea of the historic animal into the school system.
“A lot of tribes’ creations stories involve the buffalo. It’s an important cultural icon for tribal people. The opportunity to provide education for what tribes are trying to do,” Stone said. “It would be supported. You see the eagle used a lot in science-based curriculum. A lot of that is because it is national symbol.”
People all across South Dakota would benefit from this designation, said Bruce Anderson, owner of the Western Buffalo Co. near Rapid City.
“For those of us that are in the buffalo industry, anything that puts the animal in the spotlight is welcome,” Anderson said.