Back in September 2019, Samson Councilor Kurt Buffalo organized a Buffalo Signing Treaty with the Four Nations of Maskwacis, the Peepeekisis Cree Nation and the Woodland Cree Nation. This is one of a few Buffalo Signing Treaties between the First Nations of North America. The buffalo disappeared about 150 years ago from the North American landscape and these treaties are the first in 150 years to be initiated. The goal is to bring back the sacred buffalo to sustain the people once again. It is a revival of the cultures. Samson Cree Nation reporter Jeffrey Heyden-kaye reported the event and you can read his story here:
Buffalo are a keystone animal for the prairies and the Cree who live on the land
By Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye
Add four more nations to the Buffalo Treaty.
The Samson Cree Nation hosted a Buffalo Treaty signing Friday, Sept. 20 at Nipisihkopahk Secondary School’s Jonas Applegarth Theatre with the Ermineskin Cree Nation, Montana Band, Woodland Cree First Nation and Peepeekisis Cree Nation adding their names to the treaty.
Dr. Leroy Little Bear, from the Kainai First Nation, who helped create the treaty, spoke about native science and culture and how it differs from European systems.
“There was an era in European history, about 600 to 700 years ago called the enlightenment era,” said Little Bear, adding that he likes to call it ‘The Age of Reason.’
Ideas that came out of that period weren’t necessarily new but they did appear to come together, to coalesce.
During that era, the Church was in control of the histories, libraries and general information. That period of enlightenment is no different than what young people do today by checking information through technology. He likened this way of doing things to people hundreds of years ago saying they didn’t need that controlled information from the churches, but that they could use reason.
Ideas such as feelings, emotions, relationships were
“Because the only thing that we can deal with is, what can be measured,” said Little Bear.
The problem with this way of thinking, said Little Bear, is that if something couldn’t be measured, then it was pushed aside. This is one big reason why he feels women were pushed to the side or ignored in the sciences due to how they operated.
The English language is a great example of that challenge. Little Bear says he’d love to hear Hockey Night in Canada in Cree.
“You probably wouldn’t even need to turn on the TV,” he smiled.
Comparing English and the Age of Reason with native thought, something that is always changing, it’s easy to see why there are differences.
“In English, there are animate and inanimate differences,” said Little Bear, which is completely different to how Canada’s Indigenous people relate to the world.
At the time of colonization and the treaties, the Age of Reason was in full bloom. When it came to knowledge, there wasn’t a lot that the Cree could add to the story, said Little Bear. “Those two different ways of thinking are very real.”
The Cree word ‘realities’ is quite different to the English word ‘realities’, he added.
Little Bear talked also about the buffalo. He said about 10 years ago it became clear that First Nations stories and songs rely strongly on the buffalo. However, students of this day and age don’t see the buffalo in their land like they used to. This spurred the desire to speak about the Buffalo Treaty and have what was called, ‘The Buffalo Dialogues.’
When that occurred, “We always had an empty seat for the buffalo,” said Little Bear.
The spirit of the buffalo was an important component to the discussions with questions about why they wanted the buffalo back and would people remember their songs? Little Bear said long before the Treaties, Canada’s Indigenous people had treaties of their own. It was because of this history that having the First Nations work together and sign the the Buffalo Treaty was so valued.
He knew at the time that the Buffalo Treaty was going to be controversial and help would be needed to bring it together.
Thankfully at the time there were many organizations that also wanted to see the buffalo return such as the National Wildlife Federation. He said in Montana, land was even sold to create a buffalo reserve. Canada’s National Parks also wanted to bring the buffalo back, but the plans were put on hold for some time. It was the Buffalo Treaty that helped planners bring free roaming buffalo back to Banff National Park. It was a moment of reconciliation between First Nations and non-profits, as well as government agencies working together.
The movement has created excitement among First Nations elders and those taking care of the buffalo. It’s a momentous time.
The same way that the buffalo is keystone to environmental balance, it’s just as important to Cree culture.
“All over Indian country, the buffalo is back, it’s giving life back to our cultures,” said Little Bear.
“The Buffalo Treaty now has 25 signatories,” he added, pointing out that in Central and South America the treaty has been signed.
He praised the Samson Cree Nation for hosting the Buffalo Treaty days for the four new signatories. The other signing will be in Chico Hot Springs in Montana, from Oct. 6 to 8.
Ultimately, “We want to fulfil the dream of our elders that we want to see free roaming buffalo.”
Chief Vern Saddleback praised Coun. Kurt Buffalo for signing the treaty several years ago when he was chief of Samson Cree Nation. Saddleback said Buffalo is the Treaties Chief.