“Education is the new buffalo”
New installation marks anniversary of the signing of Treaty 7
Where millions of bison once roamed, thousands of students now learn. “Education is the new buffalo from which a good life will be attained.” A new installation called inni awatto (Buffalo on the Move) at Mount Royal University, located on the west side of Charlton Pond near Recreation, promotes this stirring message.
As part of iinistsi 141, a day of marking the anniversary of the signing of Treaty 7, the installation officially opened on Sept. 21. Inscribed on a metal sign, the following words mark the site that also includes seven carefully placed rocks:
In the buffalo days, inii made their annual move in the springtime to their calving sites, such as near Buffalo Lake (a sacred Blackfoot site) in the northwest part of the Blackfoot traditional territory. Today the young and old seek knowledge at Mount Royal University. When completed, they are able to benefit from their journey. Education is the new buffalo from which a good life will be attained. Iniskim Centre was named through a Blackfoot ceremony, it was destined to find the buffalo.
An iniskim (also referred to as a buffalo calling stone) is a found stone resembling a buffalo thought to bring good fortune and wisdom.
The idea for inii awatto began as Facilities Management staff watched students and their families seeking out locations to take photographs after convocation, says Grant Sommerfield, associate vice-president, Facilities Management. The pond is very popular with graduates, and Sommerfeld saw an opportunity to not only create a beautiful photo opportunity, but also honour the Indigenous population on campus.
Facilities Management approached Dion Simon, Medicine Trail coordinator at Mount Royal’s Iniskim Centre. He and Siksika Elder Clarence Wolfleg Senior (Elder Miiksika’am) came up with the idea of the Buffalo on the Move installation. Simon helped local elders with the positioning of the rocks, which are also shaped like buffalo.
Simon and Mike Clark, instructional assistant in the Faculty of Science and Technology, selected suitable stones, which came from farms near Crossfield, north of Calgary and Cheadle to the east, part of traditional Blackfoot territory. They are gniessic metamorphic rock, says Clark. The bigger ones also contain some quartz. They are Precambrian and around 500 million years old.
After a location was selected, a team of MRU employees and contractors completed the physical aspects of the instillation, including adding plants around the site. Funding came from Facilities Management.
“Working with partners within MRU to help indigenize the physical campus is important to us. We hope this will be a meaningful place on campus for decades to come,” said Sommerfield.
In September 2017, a ceremony was held to offer tobacco to the earth. Crews broke ground and the seven boulders were placed. Elder Miiksika’am provided the words for the sign explaining the installation.
Alan One Spot from Sarcee Nation gave guidance on how the rocks should be positioned. The seven boulders face north, as north is considered a place of gained knowledge and where knowledge can be achieved and attained, says Simon.
“We looked at lining seven buffaloes to the north coming from the south. The south corresponds with youth,” Simon says, crediting Facilities Management planner Tiffany Hanson with spearheading much of the work on the signage over last winter.
“Students are here to gain knowledge, to earn their education, to gain wisdom and knowledge in their field. It also serves as a meeting place, a sense of belonging place for the Indigenous students here on campus.”
Larger buffalo in the back and front guide and encourage the smaller buffalo in between.
“In the buffalo herd you’ll always see the young ones being protected by the older ones and you’ll see the males in the front and females in the back, or females in the front and males in the back, for protection,” Simon says. “Mount Royal provides that protection to the students here and to the Indigenous students.”
On Sept. 21, the installation was officially unveiled with a blessing, drumming and a story from Elder Miiksika'am as part of a full day marking the 141st anniversary of the signing of Treaty 7. On Sept. 22, 1877, the First Nations of Southern Alberta including the Blackfoot; Siksika, Kainai, Piikani; Îyârhe Stoney Nakoda; Bearspaw, Chiniki, Wesley; and Tsuut'ina signed Treaty 7 east of Calgary at Blackfoot Crossing. The territory extends from the Rocky Mountains east to the Cypress Hills and from the Red Deer River south to the U.S. border.
The day began with a pipe ceremony and smudge at the Iniskim Centre, followed by the grand opening of Buffalo on the Move. Following that, there was an unveiling at Wellness Services of a mural created by Simon involving staff and students, who were asked: What does Indigenous health look like?
Wellness Through the Four Directions, painted with acrylics onto the four walls of a skylight in the common area in the Wellness offices, depicts overcoming challenges through the four seasons.
At noon, the Iniskim Centre hosted a feast outside the Leacock Theatre. Following the feast there were presentations from Treaty 7 scholars and academics, community workers and officials with Tsuut'ina Chief Lee Crowchild, Andrew Bear Robe (PhD), doctoral student Trent Fox and John Chief Moon of Kainai.
Sept. 25, 2018 ― Peter Glenn