Bizhikiwag Homecoming


This story was originally published in the Tap newsletter, available to our backers on Patreon.

Hundreds of hooves simultaneously pounding the ground.  An iconic sound, heard in films, television shows, and in any recording featuring the “Old” West.  I heard that sound early this winter. Not in a film, not on the prairies, and not made by hundreds of bizhikiwag (bisons).  That ancient rhythm came from the hooves of twelve, young bizhikiwag, who recently arrived at Nagaajiwanaang, Fond du Lac, an Ojibwe Reservation in Northern Minnesota. 

On the blustery afternoon of November 15, 2022, my feet and my notebook covered in snow, I interviewed David Wise (below), founder and owner of Native Wise Foods, about his efforts to bring bizhikwag back to his ancestral land.  Wise’s efforts are not some “pet project.” Bizhiki, Chief Buffalo, a leader who helped make it possible for Ojibwe bands in Wisconsin and Eastern Minnesota to remain on their lands, came to Wise in a dream saying, “bring my namesake back.” Wise describes Bizhiki as someone who planned for 7 generations into the future: “We were fortunate with his wisdom to see into the future.” Wise is the 6th generation. Two years after that dream, namesakes of Bizhiki have returned to rejuvenate land depleted by decades of raising cattle and hay. [1]

As I watched them run, with snow sticking to thick coats, of varying shades of brown, Wise explained some differences between bizhikiwag and cattle. Bizhikiwag promote native vegetation by choosing which plants they eat and tilling the soil as they walk, their hooves being different from cattle. In the cold, “they turn their butts to the wind to avoid it.” They stick their heads through ice to drink the water trapped below it.  And, unlike the cattle who used to live on his property, the Bizhikiwag need a fence along the river because they have no fear of crossing it!  


The goal of Native Wise LLC is to reconnect Natives back to the land and back to healthy foods.  Wise’s motto, coined from his late grandmother, is “Good food is good medicine.”  The online store is, “Mino-mashkiki, Good Medicine.”  In her old age, his grandmother continued to harvest and process food and medicine: “…she was never bored, there’d always be something.  As soon as the maples quit running, she’d tap some of the birch.  She said that was more of a medicine, the birch sap. The maple is more of a sweetener.”  Wise credits her with teaching him these things, and today he sells some Indigenous food products through Native Wise Foods.

“My grandma would always say… ‘it takes the whole tribe or the whole family working together, like when we harvest the rice, some people would be on shore… other people would be parching it…’”  He will continue following his grandmother’s teachings as he works to build this herd of bizhikiwag.  His plans include a center on the ranch, possibly named the Chief Buffalo Learning Center, which will host: Native agricultural classes and community interactions, including spaces where Indigenous elders can pass on stories, and Indigenous artists can share their work.  Tourists will be able to rent teepees and yurts for overnight visits next to the Bizhikiwag.  

Watch Native Wise LLC in the up-coming years. Eventually 40-50 bizhikiwag will roam and forage, as wildly as possible on the 380 acre property, receiving only necessary supplements. Wise plans onsite, humane harvesting of the animals, so that they are not stressed, making their meat, a future purchase option, more tender.

Want to save more bizhikiwag and the lands on which they reside?  The bizhikiwag on Wise’s farm came from land preserved by The Nature Conservatory.

Want to buy Native Wise LLC products? They are sold at AICHO’s Indigenous First Art and Gift Shop and at Whole Foods, both in Duluth.  Online shoppers can purchase some products through Native Wise LLC and through AICHO.

Baate-wiiyaas (Jerky) Recipe from David Wise

As we were driving away into the snow, after our interview, Wise ran out to our car and handed us a napkin full of moose meat jerky made from this recipe.  I hate to even call the meat prepared from this recipe “jerky” because it tastes so much better than any “jerky” I have ever eaten.  

The spices in it allow the natural meat flavor to come through, making it very flavorful, while not overly spicy.  For all you hunters: this recipe would work very well with deer meat.  For the rest of us: try using free range organic beef or bison meat, which is available in the “natural” section of most grocery stores.

2 lb. Moose (or any meat type including: Deer, Bison, Beef)

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. onion powder

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 c. soy sauce

1 Tb. Worcestershire sauce

Cut meat into uniform strips, each about 1/4″ thick. Remember: Thicker meat retains more moisture, can take a lot longer to dry, and will not preserve as well.

Put cut meat into a sealed bag or a container with a lid.

Mix together all of the other ingredients and then add the mixture to the bag/ sealed container with the meat. And mix it all around so that every piece of meat is covered.

Let this marinade in the refrigerator for 4-24 hours. Longer is better.

Pull the meat out and lay it out on racks without letting the pieces touch each other.

Dehydrate/smoke in your equipment of choice at 160-180F until the meat has a jerky texture. Try a piece to see if you have your desired texture.

Once your desired texture is reached, let your jerky ‘rest’ until it reaches room temperature.


1) Wise says, “I prefer to use a wood fired smoker with Sugar Maple and/or Apple wood in the smoker. I burn the wood down first to get rid of heavy smoke and then add my meat to give it a light smokey flavor.”

2) When using a plug-in food dehydrator to make jerky, one will have it in the dehydrator for about half a day.  Smokers and the oven tend to be faster.

3) For those not using a smoker, but who still want that “smoky taste,” liquid smoke can be added along with the ingredient mixture mentioned above, but read the instructions on the bottle carefully, as a little of that stuff really goes a long way!

[1] WRITER’S NOTE: Other writers would have created a headline for this article out of that story, but as an Indigenous person, I understand, and want readers to know, that it was very generous of Wise to share the message of his dream with us.  Our elders place great respect on messages the come to us from the Gete-Anishinaabeg, our ancestors, and people do not take lightly the sharing of such messages.  This is also a good time to mention that in Anishinaabe culture, a namesake is both the person giving the name and the person receiving the name.  When Bizhiki said “my namesakes,” he was referring to those after whom he was named.