The Release of Buffalo at Elk Island National Park on January 29, 2017
Interview with Chief Kurt Buffalo
1.What was the meaning behind the Buffalo Treaty send off ceremony that took place at Elk Island National Park (Alberta) on Sunday January 29, 2017? Kurt: We’ll have to take a little step back on the whole intent on what the release was about. It was really a culmination of a lot of effort by Parks Canada staff and Treaty 7. Looking at the reintroduction of bison into their natural habitat. As we’re aware that it’s been one hundred and forty years since there has been bison in Banff National Park. So that’s a long time. Initially, the intent was to release them in certain areas but know they are going about it strategically. So what happened was there was a Treaty signed with Treaty 7 bands. And looking at the buffalo in a way where we used to look at it traditionally. It was a one stop shop: food, clothing, shelter, tools and ceremonial purposes. So looking at that and how we work together today as bands and trying to find those commonalities. So that was the kind of thinking behind the initial Treaty that was signed. So as Treaty 6, Samson Band was the first one to actually sign on. We were invited to be participants in watching them sign the document. So we asked, could we sign it as Samson Band because we used to have a huge herd of buffalo. One of the things I told them, if you want to have a buffalo Treaty you got to have buffalo at the table. So that was one of the things we talked about. So they allowed us to come in. So with that we signed an adhesion to that Treaty with the American bands in Fort Peck. That was done last year. So this year again we went to Banff and we signed onto another Treaty 4 band’s buffalo treaty, and I believe there was some people there from South America that were interested. And looking at it as a way for First Nations to work together because it’s been, I believe Dr. Leroy Littlebear said it’s been about one hundred and forty or fifty years since First Nations actually signed Treaty amongst ourselves. This gave us an opportunity to look at that. So bringing the buffalo back to Banff National Park was really about two things: because if you look at one hundred and forty years since the bison had been in the
Banff National Park, it’s been one hundred and forty years since we signed Treaty. So they were taken out of their natural area and at the same time we were then put onto reserves. Nothing happens by chance. It kind of opened our eyes to some of the things that we need to do collectively and that’s the reintroduction of bison into their natural habitats. We all know and understand that we have one Mother: that’s Mother Earth. We all need to treat Mother Earth with respect. I said this in my interview with A.P.T.N., they asked me why it’s so important. I said if you think about your own home as a parent and you hear the footsteps of your child in your home, it’s welcoming. It brings you some comfort. So imagine what Mother Earth is like when the bison disappeared from certain areas. Why is a concept like that hard to think about? So it’s about healing our mother by allowing her children to roam free in certain areas. So that’s really the whole significance about the bison themselves.
2. Why is it important to have the buffalo reintroduced in the area? People from Maskwacis and the buffalo at Elk Island National Park are not too far from each other. What would be the benefit of the
people going up there and seeing them? Kurt: I think if you see the buffalo, whether your driving by Elk Island National Park and you happen to be standing by the road, you get a certain feeling because your in awe of how majestic they are. So looking at that and giving that opportunity to other people to view Mother Nature’s creation, Creators creation. So bringing that experience back to the park is really amazing. Not to say that people can go right into the buffalo pad because I believe it’s in a secluded area where they have four hundred square kilometers reserved for them. I was told there is opportunity for tourism and it will bring some revenue to the park. It about experience and giving our children an experience to look at these amazing animals
3. How important is it for young people to remember Treaty? Kurt: Well Treaty ties us to the land. If you go back to Treaty 6 itself and that’s the only one I can speak of. The stories I have been told by Elders is that when Treaty was introduced by the Queen’s representatives. They did ceremony, they asked the forefathers, foremothers and Creator, through ceremony that went on for about a week, asking questions on what this was about. It tied us to the land. If you look at Treaty 6 itself, it talks about as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and rivers flow, what other Treaty has that? It ties us to Mother Earth, it ties us to Creator, and it ties us to creation. So Treaty is important because of that ceremony. If you look at what we have left we have small tracts of land left as First Nations but that’s what’s tying us to Mother Earth. So that’s the important significance, it’s a Treaty with the Crown, First Nations and the Creator. If you think back to some of the stories I’m sure you heard this. When the buffalo returns the red man will rise again. This is part of that. It’s a part of our belief that these are stories and legends we were told. You could say it’s a prophecy. So we’re going to rise up as nations, as economic forces. Not to say that we’re going to take up the bow and arrow. It’s about getting to that next level of evolution.
4. What does the buffalo symbolize for the Indian people? Kurt: We talk about in our ceremonies, nap-ee-ow mostis, that’s the Grandfather spirit. Through ceremony and songs we’re connected with creation through the buffalo. Because the buffalo provides everything as I said earlier. It’s like a Walmart. Chief Wesley form Morley used to say this all the time: we had the first Walmart. We had food, clothing, shelter and tools. He said, if Walmart had a section where they sold Bibles then they’d catch up. Because we use it for ceremony. That’s really the significance for us.
5. What do you want nation members to get from this? Kurt: I want them to able to ask themselves how they can be involved. If we are going to fix our situation as a collective family, I’ll say, a global family we need to start paying attention and listen to Mother Earth. Mother Earth is telling us all these things that need to happen. Mother Earth is in an imbalance right now. We’ve had years of oil royalties, we’ve lived a good life in Maskwacis because of Mother Earth but we’ve never given thanks. So this is just our way, a small way of saying thank you for what you’ve given us. We will help you get your children back to where they need to be. So let’s all get involved. Let’s all be a part of this bringing balance back to nature because we all have one Mother and let’s act like we all have the one Mother, respect each other, love each other, and encourage each other to live a better life. That’s all we can do. Ekosi !