FROM IINII (BUFFALO) TO EDUCATION
The Creator created this earth, which we live on, and desired to provide food and nourishment for his children to live and be tested. After he finished the creation, he called his animal creation to gather around him so he could give names to them. “Stah’ tsi’tapi” was the name given to all that live under the ground, or the underground people. “Ksah ‘kwi’tapi” was the name given to all that lived on the surface, or earth people. “Ohki’tapi” was given to all that live in the water, or water people. “Spoomi’tapi” was given to all that flew in the air, or the air people.
The Creator then asked his creations for a volunteer to feed, nourish, clothe, and shelter his children that are down on the earth. A mouse came forward, but he was much too small. A gopher, badger, coyote, and a wolf were offered, but were also too small. The bear was too lazy and grouchy for the purpose. Just then, they all felt the ground trembling and saw a thick cloud of dust approaching the group. They couldn’t make out what could be the cause. Suddenly, they saw a huge buffalo bull with black horns flashing in the sunlight, and all his people running behind with him toward the group. The other animals were scared and quickly cleared a path for them to run through to the Creator. The bull ran directly at him and stopped just short. The bull, with his chest out and snorting and pawing the earth said to the Creator, “My people and I will give ourselves as your children’s food, clothing, shelter, and anything else they need to live.” The Creator was pleased and the plan was complete.
The Creator announced that they were ready to make the journey to earth. It was night when the buffalo began their journey. The old people tell us that on a clear moonless night if you look straight up at the night sky you can still see the buffalo’s path. The White people call it the Milky Way.
The buffalo had a significant role in supporting many Indians for many years by providing clothing, shelter, tools, food, and trade. We are now in an era that requires different resources to provide economic necessities. The elders say, “Education is the buffalo of today.” Tribal elders consider education as the new economic hub on which our quality of life centers.
(Story taken from: Navajo Nation Brain Drain: An Exploration of Returning College Graduates’ Perspectives—Quintina Bearchief Adolpho)
The 140th anniversary of the signing of Treaty 7 – Innaihtsookakihtsimaan (making a treaty), has come and gone. The dust has settled; the singing and sounds of drums have quieted to a steady beat as we move into the agreement’s 141st year. Much like the above story when The elders say, “Education is the buffalo of today.” Tribal elders consider education as the new economic hub on which our quality of life centers. This is the time for Indigenous people to start entering the institutional halls of learning and begin their educational journey so that the Elders’ words of wisdom – education is the buffalo of today – will manifest.
Before European contact, the buffalo was aplenty; a huge number seemed to blanket the prairies as they roamed freely. The movement of the Buffalo or Iinii (in Blackfoot) necessitated the movement of the village as they followed the buffalo much like students who move from their homelands and move into larger urban centers to seek out the education. It is no different in the past, when the most skilled warriors went out and hunted the buffalo to bring back the kill to assist in feeding, clothing and sheltering the people of the village. It is no different now, when members of the community attained the skills and necessary prerequisites to be accepted into institutions; attain the necessary skills to receive a “piece of paper” upon graduation that can assist in providing food, clothing and shelter for their family as well as helping their community by bringing back the education and giving back to the community and the people.
As a personal reflection to Friday, September 22nd, 2017, the 140th anniversary of the signing of Treaty 7 at Blackfoot Crossing, I sat in my armchair and thought about that historic event and several things entered my mind. Much like back then, the dust settled and the ink from the signatories have all but dried. But what was the mood in the village like amongst the people? Did some of the people disagree with it? Did the people rejoice about the signing? Was there fear or uncertainty amongst the people? What about the other side, did the non-Indigenous signatories feel a sense of relief? Where they happy that they accomplished what was asked of them? Did they feel a sense of guilt? Some of these thoughts will never have an answer.
There were so many if’s that went through my mind because of the signing – in my opinion – was really for the people; Chief Crowfoot was thinking ahead for his people, much like the story about Iinii (buffalo) sacrificing themselves to feed, clothe and shelter Creator’s people. It is a great and honourable sacrifice. However, when we rely on or be dependent on a sole resource to sustain us forever. It can, at times, catch up with us. I believe that was what happened to the Indigenous people. The story that speaks to the mighty buffalo’s sacrifice to the people, it touches on the relationship between animal and people. That is why Indigenous people leave offerings when an animal has given up their life to feed the people. But when we rely solely on one thing to sustain us, it can have consequences, too. Indigenous people relied on the buffalo and we did not imagine it disappearing or depleted to a level where it would affect their livelihood. The buffalo was also affected by overkilling for economic purposes because of the fur trade industry. The buffalo was the major supplier to the industry and rifles made it easier to kill the buffalo.
When we compare it to modern times, people in business, diversify their portfolios in order to survive through hard times. Even Alberta’s reliance on oil and gas is felt by Albertans when the price of oil goes down significantly. The point is when we rely on something to last forever, it can have negative consequences if it depletes or disappears.
Indigenous students who are enrolled in the Bissett School of Business will be provided with the tools from Mount Royal University much like the Iinii or buffalo that provided the tools for Indigenous people for centuries to feed, clothe and shelter the people in the village. Indigenous students that graduate can go back home and help their respective community’s meet the challenges of building an economic base for their community.
To end off my blog for 2017, as a young fellow I can recall during the holiday season, when my Siksika (Blackfoot) people met each other and extended their hand to shake the other person’s hand simply nod and say, “Iitah mi to topa” or “Happy to be here”. This was our holiday greeting rather than Merry Christmas.
So I am saying to all of you, Iitah mi to topa!