Plains peoples of Bierstadt’s time are often celebrated as “buffalo cultures.” This designation acknowledges the historical centrality of bison as a physical resource and as an economic, spiritual, and political mainstay.
Native peoples also depended on other natural resources, including plants, farmed crops, and a wide variety of animals.
The bison, while very important, was not the only means of subsistence [among western tribes]. It was the adaptability of Native people to utilize a variety of types of natural bounty that enabled them to make the transition once the bison were decimated. —Arthur Amiotte, Oglala Lakota artist and scholar
Bison continue to be important to Plains cultures today. Tribal herds were established in the 1990s to be harvested for food, and for use in celebrations and ceremonies. They also serve as an educational resource for school children as they learn about the historical and current significance of bison to their people.