Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - 17

JASON BALDES

EASTERN SHOSHONE / WIND RIVER NATIVE ADVOCACY CENTER / EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

ALEXIS BONOGOFSKY

G

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rowing up on the
Wind River
Reservation in Fort
Washakie, Wyo.,
Jason Baldes got an
early start in
wilderness
exploration. As a
child he would traverse the backcountry
of the reservation on horseback with his
father. Together they visited over 200
lakes in the Wind River Wilderness, the
first nationally protected wilderness area
in the United States.
These father-son adventures had a
powerful impact. "My father was my
greatest influence and support in
seeking an education," explains Baldes,
Eastern Shoshone. And it was on a trip
with his father to East Africa in 1997
that Baldes discovered the passion for
bison restoration that changed the
course of his life.
After witnessing the massive
migration of 1.5 million African
wildebeests, he was inspired to one day
reintroduce buffalo to the Wind River
Reservation. There were once up to 60
million buffalo in the United States, but
the animals were nearly exterminated as
a means of destroying a principal food
source of the Native peoples of the
Great Plains, Baldes explains.
With his sights set on the ambitious
goal of restoring buffalo to their native
grazing land, he embarked on the path
to higher education. But that path was
full of obstacles for Baldes.
Perhaps the biggest challenge he
faced was being a nontraditional student
with a family to support. "Many Native
people go to school as nontraditional
students with families," says Baldes, a
father of four. "During this time, a
support system can be critical to success."
That was the case for Baldes. After
receiving his associate degree from
Front Range Community College in
Westminster, Colo., he briefly attended a
series of schools - Colorado State
University, Black Hills State University,
and Central Wyoming College - in
search of the right place for his
situation. "One of the reasons I went to

EASTERN SHOSHONE

In 1868 Eastern Shoshone Chief
Washakie, known for his leadership
in peace as well as in battle,
negotiated the establishment of the
Shoshone Reservation (renamed
the Wind River Indian Reservation
in 1924). He promoted a new way
of life and encouraged his people to
seek an education.

several different schools was the lack of
Native American presence or community," he explains. "Having that support
system was very important to me."
He finally settled on Montana State
University. There, he found mentors
and peers in the school's Native
community who were there for him
throughout college.
Baldes graduated from Montana
State with a bachelor's degree in land
resources and environmental sciences,
and then went on to earn his master's in
the same field. His love for wildlife
guided him through it all.

ecological restoration include bison as
a means to not only help Native
Americans heal from the atrocities of
the past, but also improve biodiversity
of ecosystems," he explains. "Many
tribal communities recognize this as a
valuable step to improving lives in
reservation communities."
After spending nearly 10 years
getting an education, Baldes returned
to the Wind River Reservation last year.
"I was fortunate to arrive back home
when a job opened at a local nonprofit
organization," he explains. That
nonprofit, the Wind River Native
Advocacy Center, soon appointed
Baldes its first executive director.
Today Baldes oversees a range of
projects and raises money to support
the center's mission to empower Native
Americans in Wyoming through
community organizing, education,
research, legal advocacy, and leadership
development. He is also the tribe's
bison/buffalo representative, in charge
of the restoration program.
"What I find especially satisfying
about my job is that
I am working in my
home community
for the betterment of
all, ecologically and
culturally," Baldes
says. "I'm grateful
for the opportunity
to be working in this
capacity - for a
nonprofit and not under politicized
federal, state, or tribal government
agencies." His ultimate career goal is to
continue working in tribal communities
on cultural and ecological restoration,
leaving the land a better place.
From where he is now, Baldes can
appreciate the importance of staying
grounded in his culture and values. "I
was advised by my elders, 'Know who
you are as a Shoshone person,'" he says.
"Be strong in who you are, and be who
you want to be. Don't become something
the university wants you to become. Use
the opportunity to better yourself, and
then come home to help your people."
- Stephanie Mann

It was on a trip with his
father to East Africa in
1997 that Baldes discovered
the passion for bison
restoration that changed
the course of his life.
Early in his studies, Baldes' interest in
bison restoration became a focal point of
his research. "Throughout my undergraduate and graduate programs, I
focused on efforts to reintroduce bison
to the Wind River Reservation," he says.
In 2011, while a graduate student at
Montana State, Baldes received a
fellowship from the Environmental
Protection Agency to support his project.
His initiative to bring buffalo back to
Wind River was seen as a way to improve
both ecological and community health.
In 2016, Baldes successfully returned
10 buffalo to Wind River, the culmination of years of research and hard work.
"Today, cultural revitalization and

FALL 2017 * WINDS OF CHANGE 17


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Winds of Change - Fall 2017

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Winds of Change - Fall 2017

Contents
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Intro
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Cover1
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Cover2
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Contents
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - 2
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - 3
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Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Cover3
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Cover4
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