“The wide prairie land was the habitat of the great buffalo and the people of the [Blackfoot] Confederacy looked on that animal as their staff of life.” – Canadian Portraits by Ethel Brant Monture –
When I decided to move to Alberta one of the things I most looked forward to was seeing a buffalo. I had read stories of how the First Nations Peoples of the plains had survived for centuries thanks to the buffalo, which was a staple of their diet. The great herds migrated back and forth between the U.S, and Canada. According to Monture, the buffalo were slaughtered by the thousands by American settlers in a political scheme to control Sitting Bull and the Sioux. At that time, according to Monture, Sitting Bull would strike at the American army and then take refuge with the Blackfoot in Canada. The situation was becoming a headache for the Canadian government as the U.S.A. brought pressure to bear on the government of the day. It is a sad page out of history that the scheme to starve the “Indians” into submission by wiping out the buffalo succeeded. The huge herds were no more, a bare minimum survived the widespread slaughter and once proud and independent peoples were relegated to life on reservations.
Gazing through my camera lens at the massive bovines was both inspirational and grief provoking. The animals I had the fortune to view live on a ranch near Fort Mckay, AB. They are well cared for but their legacy of thundering across the plains is denied. Like the people who once lived on the flesh and furs of this great animal the buffalo’s freedom has been curtailed and its life vastly changed.