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Managing and rehoming wild horses on tribal lands

Allison Burke walks along the shore of Lake Roosevelt on the Spokane Indian Reservation with Jack, an appaloosa mustang she rescued.  (Ashley Ahearn)
Allison Burke walks along the shore of Lake Roosevelt on the Spokane Indian Reservation with Jack, an appaloosa mustang she rescued.  (Ashley Ahearn)

There are thousands of wild horses on Native American reservations in the U.S.

As sovereign nations, tribal governments can choose how to manage those herds. On many reservations, tribal members can round up horses and do whatever they want with them, which can include sending them to slaughter.

But Allison Burke is trying to find homes for horses rounded up on the Spokane Reservation in Washington.

“I’ve just always seen the horse as my friend, my relative,” says Burke, “and not as a thing that’s here for my use or my enjoyment.”

Allison Burke, founder of Spqni Equines in Transition, hugs her mustang, Blue. “He’s got a very, very low fear threshold. So he doesn’t always let me touch him. It’s got to be his idea.” (Ashley Ahearn)

Warren Seyler, a historian and elder of the Spokane Reservation, works for the tribal Department of Natural Resources and says horses are an integral part of the tribe’s culture. They’re just one part of the connected web of animals and plants that live on the 150,000 acres of the Spokane reservation.

A training session with Jack, the appaloosa mustang Allison Burke rescued and plans to rehome through her program, Spqni Equines in Transition. (Ashley Ahearn)

Too many horses could out-compete the deer and elk that tribal members hunt and the plants and medicines they harvest from their lands.

“If you have 10,000 wild horses and they’re overrunning in your root fields, your bitterroot, your white camas, your brown camas, your medicines, that’s one part of your culture versus another,” Seyler says. “And those are tough questions to answer.”


This story is an excerpt from Mustang, Ashley Ahearn’s four-part series about the complex world of wild horses in the West. To find out more click here: Mustang | Boise State Public Radio

For information about Ashley Ahearn’s new children’s book “The Little Black Mustang,” illustrated by Catie Michel, click here TheLittleBlackMustang.com.

This story was adapted for the web by Eileen Bolinksy.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.