Sunday Sunshine: Old Man Buffalo

One spring day in 2016, after years of travelling back and forth along Hwy 14 (AB) / 40 (SK), I decided it was time to take a look at the Viking Ribstones. East of the town of Viking, AB is a pull-out with a provincial heritage marker describing Ribstones Historic Site. I’d stopped there many times, but had never ventured any further because the turn off wasn’t marked.** However, I’d recently come across instructions on how to reach the site, and that encouraged me to try a quick visit, without risk of losing time on a search.

ribstones enclosure
Ribstones Historic Site, east of Viking, AB

The Viking Ribstones are two quartzite boulders known as glacial erratics that identify an archaeological site going back to ancient times. These Boulder Petroglyphs have markings that resemble the spine and rib cage of a buffalo as well as smaller circular indentations whose purpose is unclear. Speculation suggests these pits could represent 1) arrow or bullet wounds, or 2) are the result of “repeated pounding done to replicate the sound of a running herd as part of a pre-hunt ceremony“, or 3) “may have been carved in imitation of the pock-marked surface of the Iron Creek Meteorite.” The
papamihaw asiniy (flying rock in Cree) or Iron Creek Meteorite could be seen from this hilltop until it was removed in 1866 by Missionary George McDougall.

boulder petroglyphs
Boulder Petroglyphs w/ markings

The Viking Ribstones are one of nine ribstone sites that have been found in Alberta. This location, on private land, is unique in that the boulders have not been disturbed or removed. In the 1950s, the area was ploughed, and at that time many ancient artifacts were uncovered. Historically, good luck offerings and prayers of thanks were given at ribstone sites to “Old Man Buffalo,” the spirit protector of the buffalo herds. Today, this hilltop remains a sacred site. Sweetgrass braids, offerings of tobacco, and colourful prayer flags on the surrounding trees and fencing are placed regularly, and should be respected.

SOURCES:

** Note: There is now signage marking the grid road south.

All photos, except where noted, copyright D. MacLeod. All rights reserved.

Sunday Sunshine: Pîhtokahanapiwiyin

Chief Poundmaker Historical Centre, Poundmaker Cree Nation, SK

Everything I could do was done to stop bloodshed. Had I wanted war, I would not be here now. I should be on the prairie. You did not catch me. I gave myself up.

You have got me because I wanted justice.

Poundmaker at trial, July 18, 1885, Regina

The Chief Poundmaker Historical Centre sits atop a hill on Poundmaker Cree Nation, SK. Along with the museum and interpretive trail, this site is the final resting place of Pîhtokahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker). Last summer, the Historical Centre and Fort Battleford partnered to present a Storyteller’s Festival, art shows, and concerts but the Historical Centre’s vision is focused on much more than Cree cultural events.

Chief Poundmaker was wrongfully convicted of treason in 1885 following the Northwest Resistance. He served only one year of a three year sentence at the Stony Mountain Penitentiary near Winnipeg due to contracting tuberculosis. Upon his release, he journeyed from his people’s reserve near Battleford to his stepfather Crowfoot’s reserve at Blackfoot Crossing. He died within a few months of his arrival and was buried there.

In 1967, Chief Poundmaker’s remains were interred on this hill in Poundmaker Cree Nation.

chief poundmakers grave
Chief Poundmaker’s grave, Poundmaker Cree Nation, SK

In 2017, Poundmaker’s gun and ceremonial staff were on temporary display in the Historical Centre’s museum. Floyd Favel, museum curator, explains that the Winchester “represents livelihood and the staff represents good governance.” Having these items on loan is just the beginning of the Historical Centre’s campaign to repatriate all of Poundmaker’s belongings housed in museums around the world. Their return will “allow us to once again own our own history and cultural artifacts and to interpret our own history in our way.

In 2018, the Federal government agreed to “move forward with Poundmaker Cree Nation to develop a joint statement of exoneration for Chief Poundmaker.” This agreement is the result of more than 25 years of lobbying by leaders for the truth of Poundmaker’s legacy as a peacemaker to be acknowledged and to be represented in the history books. Ultimately, the wish is that the repatriated artifacts be housed in a new modern building that meets international museum standards. The process will begin to move forward once Chief Poundmaker’s exoneration has been made official on May 2, 2019.

All photos, except where noted, copyright D. MacLeod. All rights reserved.

Poundmaker Powwow 2010

ABOUT

In July 2010, the Poundmaker Cree Nation hosted an International Powwow, produced in commemoration of the 125th Anniversary of the Northwest Resistance.

Pow-wows celebrate the circle of life by bringing our communities together to sing, dance, and renew kinship bonds and friendships. The dancers form the center of the circle, with drum groups around them forming another circle, with the audience as the next circle…

Today, Pow-wow dancers are considered contemporary warriors, who are the survivors of a war that has been won in terms of retaining an Indian way of life. To be a Pow-wow participant is to honour the struggle of our ancestors and their desire to preserve Indian cultural ways. The Pow-wow is Indian and, as long as it continues, we as Indian people will continue.

Our Legacy

THE EVENT

We found a parking spot in the field, then wandered through the rows of vehicles and campers, past the food kiosks and craft vendors to the circular structure in the middle of the sports field. The performance area was protected from the sun by a canvas roof. Bleachers were set up under the tent on the periphery of the dance floor with the MC’s booth located at the southwest corner. The drumming and singing groups were set up next to the dance area, in front of the bleachers. Slowly, the spectators finished their visiting, and eating, and shopping, and came inside to fill the stands.

Grand Entry, Poundmaker Powwow 2012

The Grand Entry always begins the event. This is the parade of dignitaries and dancers who enter to the accompaniment of the singers and drummers. First, the Flag bearers, then, the Chiefs, followed by the Warriors (a.k.a. the Veterans), the Princesses, and the male and female dancers grouped according to age and dance type: Men’s Fancy dancers, Grass dancers, Chicken dancers, Traditional dancers, and sometimes, Hoop dancers; Women’s Fancy Shawl dancers, Jingle dancers and Traditional dancers. The Grand Entry is followed by a Round Dance that invites all spectators, and dancers to share in the healing properties of dance and community. Then the dancing begins in earnest.

Grand Entry, Poundmaker Powwow 2012

It’s difficult to describe how powerful the dancing can be. There are beautiful costumes, beaded, fringed and feathered, whirling and jingling, adorning dancers whose performance is at once, both athletic and spiritual. The drum beats are loud and deep and rhythmic while the singing is high and pure. It’s just an amazing and unforgettable experience for everyone involved. If you have an opportunity to attend a powwow this powwow season, it’s not to be missed.

LINKS

All photos, except where noted, copyright D. MacLeod. All rights reserved.