Truth, relationships and reconciliation 

Written by Adam Kline

In 2022, I travelled to Balcarres, Saskatchewan with my denomination’s intercultural ministry team to meet members of the Loko Koa Mission. Loko Koa is a small group of YWAM missionaries from Samoa who seek to honour Creator by helping to restore Indigenous culture and identity to the First Peoples of North America. 

Over the last couple of decades, the Loko Koa team have formed strong, trusted relationships with Indigenous elders and Band Council leaders. The Loko Koa have become known as the buffalo people because of their help bringing buffalo back to Canada’s First Nations. 

Before European colonizers arrived in North America, an estimated 20 million Indigenous people were living off the land, and 40 million buffalo roaming across the Prairies. For many Indigenous groups, their cultures and identities were closely tied to the buffalo. They had been stewarding this land in harmony with the buffalo since time immemorial. 

That all changed when European colonization began. By 1900, less than 600 wild buffalo remained. The last wild buffalo was seen in Saskatchewan in 1877 and Manitoba in 1883. 

Despite horrific efforts to sever ties between Indigenous people and their cultures, the First Nations remain, and so do the buffalo.

Even though the buffalo no longer run wild, ranchers have saved them from extinction. And now Loko Koa, in partnership with Tearfund Canada, are working with Indigenous elders and leaders to restore buffalo herds to the First Nations. 

It started with the Peepeekisis First Nation; Loko Koa and a rancher they partnered with gave the Nation a herd of 22 buffalo. That herd, overseen and stewarded by Indigenous leaders, grew to 100, and a new herd of 22 buffalo was then gifted to the Zagime Saulteaux First Nation. After that, Cote First Nation and Pelican Lake First Nation were gifted herds, and are now overseeing the growth of their herds in order to continue to pay it forward. To date, five First Nations have participated, and the prayer is that many more will be blessed in the years to come. 

The intercultural ministry team I’m a part of was invited by Tearfund Canada to learn about the Bring Back the Buffalo Project, but more importantly, we were invited to grow in relationship with Indigenous elders and leaders from across Treaty 4. For as the Loko Koa leaders have shown, works of reconciliation must be preceded by trust and relationship.

And so, our team of church leaders and pastors asked the Holy Spirit to sow seeds of right relationship as we met with our Indigenous neighbours. As new friendships were forged, we witnessed this exciting work of reconciliation and were invited into it. Not surprisingly, we came away excited to share what we saw and to invite other followers of Jesus to humbly take part in this story. In 2023 we returned, but this time we brought along new team members from across the region of Treaty 4.

The good work of caring for the buffalo continues today. The growing herds represent a spark of hope and healing across this land we call Canada. The return of the buffalo to the First Nations supports the resurrection of a sense of self that was stolen and nearly destroyed. It builds trust and offers a pathway to even greater works of reconciliation.

In many ways, these buffalo herds act as a bridge between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. For they are a part of a story that invites us to reckon with the past, and through respectful, grace-filled relationships, build a better future together.

Adam Kline leads intercultural missions for the Free Methodist Church in Canada and has a passion for storytelling. He lives in Belleville, Ont.

Corrections: the Zagime First Nation is Saulteaux (the original article incorrectly said Cree). YWAM’s team name was misspelled Loka Koa. The correct spelling is Loko Koa.