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A budding bison rancher at BHS: Xavier Michael-Young envisions open spaces -- and a new tribal revenue stream

BEMIDJI—Xavier Michael-Young doesn't want to work in a cubicle.

"I really, really, really hate small spaces," the Bemidji High School senior said. "I can hardly even stand classrooms."

The school's library, with it's high ceilings and open floor plan, is better, Michael-Young said. That's why he spends his study halls there.

The 17-year-old is more comfortable in wide-open places like the plains of South Dakota or the mountains of Wyoming, he said, and it's a big reason he wants to start a bison farm a few years down the road.

Xavier Michael-Young

The bigger reason, though, is to develop a new revenue stream for American Indian tribes.

"Most of the funding for Native Americans come from casino money and BIA," he said, referring to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. "And so, if I can create a source of income for the tribe and show that it's possible via something that we are known for—we know bison, we know the animals, we know nature, we know how the land works—so why not just incorporate that into an economic resource?"

The plan is to earn his high school diploma then head to the University of Wyoming to study agricultural business. And the dream is to open a bison and horse ranch in Wyoming or maybe Northern Colorado.

"It's good ranch land," Michael-Young said.

It's also the natural habitat for plains bison, he explained, which have less pronounced humps, two distinct fur textures, and are smaller than their woodland counterparts, who might need the extra size to contend with bears.

Bison are also hardier and lower-maintenance than cows. Cows might flee a harsh winter storm, but bison are known to face—and even advance into—the wind and snow in order to get past it faster.

"Or they just don't even care because they're that dope," Michael-Young said with a laugh. "They're that strong."

The farm he envisions would be self-sustaining and almost entirely off the grid: independent food, water, and electricity sources, but maybe just enough internet connectivity for Netflix.

Like the Red Lake Nation staffers who plan to start a bison farm of their own this fall, Michael-Young, who's an enrolled member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, plans to turn his into a destination for field trips, culture camps, and so on.

"I want kids to be able to come there and work on cultural-related stuff, feel like they have options other than going into a—ugh!—a cubicle," Michael-Young said, grimacing at the word. "I just can't."

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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