Buffalo count robe shows history, guides future with education

Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation knowledge keeper Wayne Goodwill is one of the last known buffalo robe painters in Saskatchewan.

A buffalo winter count robe is a way for Indigenous Peoples to tell stories visually, differing from traditional oral history. Like a storybook, buffalo robes are used to educate and teach lessons from the past.

On Thursday, Goodwill gifted the University of Regina one of his robes. He said it tells the story of the connection between Indigenous Peoples and the land on which the university currently sits.

“I was hoping it would help the university acknowledge our people,” Goodwill said. “It seemed there was a gap that was missing.”

Goodwill was approached by the university in the spring of 2021 to paint the hide. He said he took months to think of the vision for his painting of him and worked all summer on the piece, completing the robe in November.

The robe tells the history of colonialism in Saskatchewan. On it are images of buffalo hunts, the signing of treaties, trading between settlers and indigenous people, the history of residential schools to symbolize today’s history and the First Nations University.

“People will have a better idea of ​​what was happening to First Nations people right up to today,” said Goodwill.

The university said the robe allows for all people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to see the history of Saskatchewan through a different lens.

“[We] are truly honored to welcome through ceremony this winter count robe,” U of R President and Vice-Chancellor Jeff. Keshen said in a statement. “This robe will play an integral role in the university’s efforts to address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action.”

“It decolonizes education,” said Associate Vice President of Indigenous Engagement for the U of R, Lori Campbell. “Only once do we understand the truth are we able to move ahead with reconciliation. This is an opportunity to do that.”

Goodwill said Indigenous Peoples would learn from the buffalo in the past. However, today education is the new buffalo.

“You have to listen. Knowledge comes from listening,” he said. “We must retain our old way. Language is most important, if you have your language, you’ll understand your culture and traditions.

“We’re living in two cultures. I have my Dakota way and my traditions, but I still have to learn this other way in order to survive. That’s why education is so important.”

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