Ten female bison now roam land in the southwest metro, their return part of an effort by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community to forge renewed cultural and spiritual connections between tribal members and the animals.

The American plains bison are sacred to community members, who consider them relatives. The bison, also known as pte — pronounced puh-TAY — have been settling in on 165 acres of tribal land near County Road 83 and Eagle Creek Boulevard in Shakopee.

The animals came on Nov. 29. Fifty to 70 tribal members witnessed their arrival, holding a ceremony to welcome them, said Cyndy Milda, the community's cultural outreach organizer. The animals haven't roamed freely in Minnesota since 1858.

"Having not seen them on Shakopee land for that long of time, it was just really powerful," Milda said.

Their return will help tribal members learn more about who they are, she said.

"We were near extinction along with the bison in the 1860s," she said.

The bison came from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe in South Dakota, who gifted 25 of them to the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) after the SMSC awarded them a grant. For now, 10 is enough, Milda said.

Staff from the Minnesota Zoo helped transport the animals.

The oldest female is four years old, while the other nine are between the ages of 18 months and two years old.

"[Bison] are a matriarchal society, same as us," Milda said. "Hopefully, they'll choose the four-year-old as their matriarch. And they're still trying to figure that out."

Milda said tribal members have been planning for the bison for two years. They focused largely on safety and security measures, but also had to consider their logic in bringing them back.

"We chose to do it for cultural reasons," she said. "How are we going to take care of them and how are they going to take care of us?"

Traditionally, the pte led the tribe to a winter campsite, Milda said, and according to lore, a female would sacrifice herself to provide meat and other resources for tribal members.

Community members eventually may use the bison as a food source again, she said.

Shakopee Mayor Matt Lehman said he was initially worried about gawkers hoping to see the bison by parking on roads near their home. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community said they would address the issue if it arises.

"Other than that, I think it's pretty cool," Lehman said.

Milda said some motorists have slowed down on the side of the road to try to glimpse the animals — they're visible when standing but not when lying down — but it hasn't been a safety concern. Eventually the SMSC plans to build a lookout tower to view the animals.

Several other groups in Minnesota have acquired bison in recent years. In the metro, both Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in East Bethel and the Belwin Conservancy in Afton have bison herds.

Dakota County reintroduced bison in the fall of 2022 at a Hastings park reserve. The county belongs to the Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd and received their animals from Blue Mounds and Minneopa state parks. The Minnesota Zoo and Oxbow Park in Olmsted County are part of the conservation herd effort, too, which numbers about 150 bison total.