Tag Archives: buffalo

2420 Summers Ago

Reid Dickie

Rustakoomaw crouched in the shade of the cottonwood that grew next to a dry streambed. It was the only tree for miles, an imposing sentinel against the sky. He held a small round drum made of hide and wood that he beat steadily and quickly with a fur-tipped stick. His voice accompanied the persistent beat, sailing across the still prairie, mixing with the whispers of cottonwood leaves the slight breeze spurred. Eyes tightly shut; his body weaving slightly, Rustakoomaw approached the trance with awe and respect. He stepped inside.

Immediately his power animals were with him, ready to accept and follow through on his intent. Rustakoomaw had come to the trance for help. His people were sick and dying, the rain had not appeared for many moons and the buffalo herds had deserted the prairie for the wetter north country. The grass was drying up on the hills, creeks and sloughs were now just smooth stones and crusted earth. He was asking Great Spirit to feed his people and bring the rain so the buffalo grass would grow again. His power animal Wolf linked the shaman with the Divine. Tears rolled down Rustakoomaw’s dark face, landing on his bare chest. He beat the drum harder. Wolf beckoned him.

The shaman found himself being lead toward a high hill that he knew very well. It was at the eastern edge of the region he and his people hunted. It overlooked a vast rolling plain; below it was the white shore of Bad Water Lake. The grass grew tall and green surrounding the hill. He stopped at the foot of the hill and looked up. At the top of the rise, he saw a wavering vision begin to take shape. Emerging from the shimmer of the heat and the clear cloudless blue beyond, Rustakoomaw began to make out a shape, an animal shape.

Like a jewel atop the verdant hill, the image of a huge white buffalo appeared. It turned and looked Rustakoomaw in the eye, nodding its shaggy head. He began to climb the hill toward the buffalo. As he approached, he realized he was suddenly getting wet. It had begun to rain. The vision of the white buffalo dissolved in the sheets of rain that slashed at the land. The sky was still bright blue and cloudless but the rain continued to fall in Rustakoomaw’s trance.

That evening as the small band devoured a thin white-tailed buck, a lucky hunt by one of Rustakoomaw’s sons, clouds began to roll in from the west. A gentle rain began that persisted all night and into the next day. Every evening that week the rain came. The parched earth drank every fresh drop and the grass returned to the prairie, along with it the buffalo and the health of Rustakoomaw’s people.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, shaman, shamanism, Spirit

Sacred Places Video Update – Big Beaver Buffalo Effigy

Reid Dickie 

On my recent excursion into the Saskatchewan Holyland, I spent most of a morning at the buffalo effigy south of Big Beaver. My visit resulted in this video report on the site and its vistas.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ancient Wisdom, Love, PRAIRIES, Sacred Places, Saskatchewan, shaman, shamanism, Spirit

Manitoba’s Heritage Animal

           Its distinctive image appears on Manitoba’s flag, life-size bronze replicas flank the Grand Staircase in the Manitoba Legislature and restaurants all over the province offer its tasty healthy meat on their menus. If Manitoba has a heritage animal, the bison is it, MTS advertising notwithstanding.

       In 1800, sixty million bison freely roamed the Central Plains. By 1865, 15 million remained, just 7 million in 1872. In 1900, one thousand bison were left in the world.  Brought from the edge of extinction by the efforts of an unlikely combination of visionary people, bison still roam the land, numbering 19,000 in Manitoba, most of them on farms. Two small display herds, one near Lake Audy in Riding Mountain National Park and one at Fort Whyte Centre in Winnipeg, total 50 animals.

      The life of a bison today isn’t much different than it was thousands of years ago. Farmed but not domesticated describes the current bison population. They are back at home on their native range, preferring to be left alone in large roaming areas. They feed on similar grasses as their ancestors and grow to full maturity in about two years. In Manitoba, 120 farms produce bison, seven of them on First Nations.

      Leonard Chopp, president of the Manitoba Bison Association, runs 100 head of bison near Vita. After fifteen years of experience raising bison, Chopp says demand is expanding worldwide. 

     “It’s a healthier meat, lean and tasty, low in calories and fat, high in protein,” says Chopp. “Bison aren’t subjected to drugs, chemicals, growth hormones or steroids because they are fed naturally and grow naturally. We keep them in their natural state.”

     Chopp has seen a change from breeding stock being more valuable than the meat to just the opposite. The meat sells these days. Despite a decrease in the number of bison producers in Manitoba over the past few years, herd numbers have remained steady.

     “The average Manitoba herd numbers about 200 animals,” says Chopp. “A few producers run 3,000 head and some just a few dozen.”

     New markets and opportunities are opening up for bison producers. Active promotion means bison is sold in more local grocery stores and served in more restaurants than ever before. People have acquired the taste.

      “Here in Manitoba many producers are also active marketers. More brokers and distributors are promoting bison meat, getting it into stores,” says Chopp. “Demand is growing worldwide with markets opening in other provinces, the US and Europe.”

       Prehistorically, the bison was a shopping mall on the hoof. No part of the animal was wasted. Today, besides the meat, bison hides are tanned for leather goods. First Nations people use skulls and other bones ceremonially.

      Asked about his feelings for his herd of heritage animals, Chopp said, “It makes me proud to raise these majestic animals. It’s a good feeling to have contributed to restoring them back to a reasonable number, that they are safe from extinction.”

      Prehistoric bison culture was recently recognized with the development of the Clay Banks Buffalo Jump on Badger Creek just north of Cartwright. A viewing area across the valley provides information on the 2,500-year history of the site.

     Are they bison or buffalo? Leonard Chopp says they are both. “It’s personal preference.” Whatever you call them, the next time you come across bison meat in a grocery store or on a restaurant menu, try it. Think of it as a heritage food.

Leave a comment

Filed under Critters

It’s Grasslands National Park Day on Reid’s Blog

        Looming in the distance and a landmark for millennia, 70 Mile Butte in the West Block of Grasslands National Park is home to ancient stone effigies, prairie rattlesnakes and pronghorn antelope.

          Assailed and wind-hewn, The East Block of Grasslands National Park offers a badlands experience, rugged and enchanting. Watch for quicksand.

        As I mention in the piece on Lise Perrault, buffalo once again roam the hills and vales of Grasslands National Park.

       More GNP stories: Lise Perrault and Prairie Dog Rapture

Leave a comment

Filed under grasslands national park, Parks