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The dictionary term is “calf,” but they’re known to Parks Canada conservationists as “little reds” for their fuzzy ginger coats that will soon darken to a characteristic deep chocolate.

For the rest of us they are bison babies; for the first time in 140 years, three were recently born in the wild on the eastern flanks of the Rocky Mountains. Amid today’s constant churn of terror, scandal, humanitarian catastrophe and U.S. President Donald Trump, it’s nice to receive some uplifting news.

Beyond obvious ecological benefits – the ruminants are crucial for maintaining grassland biodiversity – the herd roaming Banff National Park’s Panther Valley carries unmistakable symbolic weight for the region’s Indigenous peoples. It should for all Canadians.

The births are of a piece with national reconciliation and, more practically, the 2014 Northern Tribes Buffalo Treaty. The accord between bands in Canada and the United States, the first of its kind in 150 years, aims to reintroduce bison on 2.6-million hectares of traditional lands.

It’s been a long wait. At European contact, the population of buffalo, as the beasts are also called, was estimated at 30 to 40 million. They had been central to the Indigenous way of life on the Great Plains for millennia. Hunting them to the precipice of extinction took less than two centuries.

Canadian conservation efforts date back to 1897, when Banff protected a handful of bison as a show herd. In 1907, Parliament ordered the purchase of 350 head from Montana, and by the 1950s Ottawa was managing herds in captivity at six national parks.

Banff’s experiment, launched in 2017 with 16 adults, is different. It holds out the hope of a self-sustaining wild population. Two weeks ago, Indigenous elders were invited to Panther Valley to conduct a blessing ceremony ahead of the bison being released into a 1,200-square-kilometre reintroduction area. “The dream of our elders is to have buffalo return any which way,” Kainai First Nation elder Leroy Little Bear told The Canadian Press on July 16.

Thanks to three calves, that feels a tiny bit closer to hand.

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