new addition to the herd named for their unity in facing challenges
Weighing up to an imposing 2,600 pounds, wood bison are North America’s heaviest animals but they still stand together in herds to face danger, whether it is a winter storm or a pack of wolves.
That rugged resilience and unity inspired Hector Tierney when the Beaver Creek Wood Bison Ranch decided to name a calf this spring.
“I wanted to come up with something to commemorate the planet standing together, all at one time, to face the COVID-19 pandemic head on,” says Hector, a safety administrator for the Fort McKay Group of Companies, which manages the ranch on behalf of Syncrude and the Fort McKay First Nation.
I sat down and looked at some online dictionaries. I wanted to find a name that honored the importance of the bison in Indigenous culture as well as the situation we currently face.
– hector tierney
Mamawi – Cree for “together, all at once” – summed up exactly what Hector was looking for. “When I saw it, I thought, ‘Wow what could be better than that?’ It’s perfect,” says Hector, whose wife Judy recently retired as a Syncrude employee. “We moved out here in 2008 from Ontario and we love the bison – we’ve driven out to the bison viewpoint with family and friends when they visited us.”
Calves are rarely named at the ranch – they are usually assigned a letter and number in the fall, when they undergo their first checkup by the veterinarian. “When the first calf was born April 7, I had thought about what could we do that could bring a positive outlook or inspiration to our current situation,” says ranch manager Brad Ramstead. “After raising the idea, the Fort McKay Group of Companies started a naming campaign for the first 2020 addition to the Beaver Creek herd during the pandemic.”
Given the circumstances, Jesse Hall, Syncrude’s Manager – Tailings and Lease Development, saw it as the right thing to do. “Calving season helps with perspective. We’ve had a very challenging period, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the flooding in Fort McMurray to trying to maintain our business during this period of low prices,” says Jesse, whose responsibilities include the ranch. “And we have new calves born who are unaware of these storms. It puts life in perspective – life will go on. The bison will endure and there’s something reassuring about that. And that’s an example we can learn from as we go through these storms as an organization and as a community.”
About 60 of the expected 90 calves have been born so far this season.
“Mamawi was among the earliest calves born and weighed around 40 pounds. He’s a healthy bull and probably is up to about 60 pounds now,” says Brad, a wildlife biologist who began working on reclamation at the ranch in 1991 and has managed the herd since 2005. “It’s a very appropriate name – it really captures the spirit of this herd and our operation.”
The bison herd, originally started in 1993 as an experiment to test how well reclaimed land would stand up to large animals, has come to represent Syncrude’s commitment to reclaiming the land used in its operations as well as working with Indigenous communities in the region.
“The ranch has always represented something larger than the bison,” Jesse says. “Mamawi and the rest of the herd provide people with some comfort – standing together, we will come through this.”