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The Slaughter of the North American Bison and Reversal of Fortunes on the Great Plains

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Abstract

In the late-19th century, the North American Bison was slaughtered in a dramatic near-extinction episode that occurred in a period of just over ten years. We argue that the rapidity of this slaughter led to a “reversal of fortunes” for the Native American societies that were built on the bison. We exploit regional variation in the speed at which the bison were slaughtered and tribal variation in bison-dependence to show that bison-dependent Native American tribes suffered a significant change in living standards immediately after the bison's near-extinction, as measured by changes in height. Once the tallest people in the world, the generations of bison-dependent people born after the slaughter were amongst the shortest. We show that these effects persist into the present. Previously bison-dependent societies have persistently worse living conditions compared to the average Native American nation, with between 20-40% less income per capita today, and this effect is strongest among the least historically diverse economies. Our results are robust to the inclusion of cultural, colonial, and geographic factors and hold in both Canada and the United States. While the relative living conditions of historically bison-dependent nations improved modestly between 1910 and 2010, as measured by standardized occupational rank, outcomes remain lower than non-bison-dependent nations, particularly for those living on Native American reservations. We suggest that the restrictions on mobility and economic diversification that were placed on Native Americans by federal Indian policy during the 19th and 20th centuries likely hampered the ability of these economies to adjust in the long-run.

Suggested Citation

  • Donna Feir & Rob Gillezeau & Maggie Jones, 2017. "The Slaughter of the North American Bison and Reversal of Fortunes on the Great Plains," Department Discussion Papers 1701, Department of Economics, University of Victoria.
  • Handle: RePEc:vic:vicddp:1701
    Note: ISSN 1914-2838
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    Cited by:

    1. Button, Patrick & Walker, Brigham, 2019. "Employment Discrimination against Indigenous Peoples in the United States: Evidence from a Field Experiment," IZA Discussion Papers 12131, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    2. Donna Feir & Rob Gillezeau & Maggie Jones, 2018. "Illuminating Indigenous Economic Development," Department Discussion Papers 1806, Department of Economics, University of Victoria.
    3. Donna Feir & Rob Gillezeau & Maggie Jones, 2017. "Illuminating Economic Development in Indigenous Communities," Department Discussion Papers 1704, Department of Economics, University of Victoria.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    North American Bison; Buffalo; Extinction; Economic History; Development; Displacement; Native Americans; Indigenous; Income Shock; Intergenerational Mobility;

    JEL classification:

    • I15 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health and Economic Development
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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