Sacred Beings
Buffalo and Deer - Sustainers of Life

Buffalo Ritual

Women of the White Buffalo Society
By Karl Bodmer, 1883
Minnesota Historical Society (Weid 1840-43: vignette 28)

Plains and Plateau peoples have songs, dances and ceremonies to honour the buffalo, the Sundance being one of the most important. Many ritual societies call upon the spirit of the buffalo for healing and guidance.

In several cultures, both men and women wore bonnets made of buffalo hair and horns. These bonnets indicated that the wearer was a warrior, or a Holy Man or Woman. It was also believed that they offered physical and spiritual protection from arrows and bullets. The image of the buffalo was incorporated into men's robes, drums, rattles and other sacred objects. The members of some men's societies also made masks from buffalo heads for themselves and their horses.

Men wearing buffalo coats and horned headdresses, and carrying buffalo staffs
Calgary Stampede, 1912
Photograph by William Oliver, Glenbow Archives
Calgary, Canada

The bison is the chief of all animals, and represents the earth, the totality of all that is. It is the feminine, creating earth principle which gives rise to all living forms. . . . Hunting is a quest, which requires preparatory prayer and sacrificial purification: the diligently followed tracks are signs or intimations of the goal; and final contact or identity with the quarry is the realization of Truth, the ultimate goal in life.

Black Elk, Oglala Lakota, 1931, in Joseph E. Brown, The Animals of the Soul.

Buffalo Dance
By George Catlin (1796-1872)
National Archives of Canada C100023

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Introduction | Hunting Methods | Products of Life | Buffalo and Deer Imagery | Buffalo Ritual | Decimation of the Buffalo and Deer | Re-emergence of the Buffalo | Transition to Cattle ranching

Introduction | Buffalo and Deer | Dog and Coyote | Honouring the Horse