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A campfire chat about the Buffalo and the Buffalo Treaty

The buffalo is essential for our survival, said a Blackfoot Elder during a UCalgary panel on Indigenous culture.

In honour of National Indigenous People’s Day on June 21, the University of Calgary held its seventh annual Campfire Chats webinar, and this year’s topic was the buffalo and the Buffalo Treaty.

National Indigenous Peoples Day is a special occasion to learn more about the rich and diverse cultures, voices, experiences and histories of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

Campfire Chats is an annual event that was initiated and launched during UCalgary’s 50-year anniversary in 2016.

The program focuses on igniting Calgarians’ curiosity about Indigenous storytelling around the past, present and future challenges.

Elder Reg Crowshoe, a member of the Piikani First Nation, community leader, and spiritual advisor spoke of the buffalo’s importance.

“We need the Buffalo for the ecosystem, for all of us to survive forever,” said Crowshoe.

The buffalo were important for food and for raw materials for Indigenous Peoples. It’s also an important part of traditional Indigenous ceremonies.

The buffalo holds great significance

The vice-provost of Indigenous engagement at the University of Calgary, Michael Hart, said that this is a time to reflect on the diverse history of the Indigenous Peoples. It’s important to acknowledge the history created as a result of colonialism.

Hart also recognized the one-year anniversary of the discovery of 215 children buried in a mass grave at the former residential school in Kamloops, BC.

“It’s important to take a moment to reflect upon all the recent discoveries of Indigenous children buried in unmarked graves on or adjacent to residential schools across the country today on National Indigenous People’s Day,” he said.

According to Hart, the Buffalo Treaty recognizes, honours and revitalizes the relationship that Indigenous people have with the buffalo.   

“We must remember that the buffalo was a cornerstone to traditional ways like socially, spiritually, and in many other ways,” said Hart.

The Buffalo Treaty was signed on September 23, 2014, on the Blackfeet Territory in Montana, with four additional First Nations signing in Banff, Alberta in August 2015.

The Buffalo Treaty created an alliance among the 10 groups. It aimed to engage tribes and First Nations in talking about bison conservation. It unites the political power of the tribes and First Nations of the Northern Great Plains.

“The Buffalo Treaty itself speaks to conservation and restoration. It speaks to culture; bringing back that relationship with the buffalo, it speaks to education, health and economics,” said Leroy Little Bear, a member of the Kainai Nation, Blackfoot Confederacy in Alberta and Professor Emeritus at the University of Lethbridge.

The panel ended with a message of understanding of the “journey toward transformation” taking time and the moderators urged Calgarians to continue their support, guidance and participation.