June 18, 2021

Buffalo robe tells story of ii’ taa’poh’to’p through symbols

Reg Crowshoe to present winter’s count buffalo robe to Michael Hart during Campfire Chats June 21
Winter’s count buffalo robe

On National Indigenous Peoples’ Day June 21, 2021, the University of Calgary will be gifted a buffalo robe whose hide is marked as a statement of the progress the Office of Indigenous Engagement team has made implementing its strategy, ii’ taa’poh’to’p. Throughout time, Indigenous people have told of progress, history, experiences, and events important to them through symbolic documentation to stand as witness, recording and documenting an event of significance.

Document of significance provides information through symbols

This robe, gifted to UCalgary by Dr. Reg Crowshoe, Elder-in-Residence, and received by Dr. Michael Hart, vice-provost (Indigenous engagement), informs viewers of five years of ii’ taa’poh’to’p, with each year having its own symbols that demonstrate that year’s progress and events. In Indigenous culture, years are counted in winters — the number of winters a person has lived through. Therefore, this robe is presented as the winter count of ii’ taa’poh’to’p.

As an official document recording events, robes are traditionally housed in an Elder's or a Chief’s teepee for others to view. At UCalgary, this robe will be housed with Hart, leader of the Indigenous Strategy team, in the newly designed space designated for the team. According to Hart, “Recording the progress we’ve made implementing ii’ taa’poh’to’p using symbols to share information is a high honour. It is an old and traditional form of record-keeping, and it is important to use our traditional ways — it teaches new generations and respects the history of our people.”

Crowshoe presents ceremonial robe to Hart

Crowshoe has a long history with UCalgary. His work goes back more than 20 years, supporting different faculty as a guest lecturer, providing Traditional Knowledge alongside book knowledge in classrooms. He has worked across faculties and with presidents, provosts and chancellors who have led UCalgary. He was instrumental in guiding the Office of Indigenous Engagement as the team drafted and implemented ii’ taa’poh’to’p, and he’s been a spiritual adviser, a motivator, a coach, a friend and a mentor to countless students who have studied at the university.

“This gift carries special meaning,” says Hart. “I consider Reg Crowshoe with the highest regard personally. This buffalo hide and the symbols are an important and appropriate way to keep record of our parallel journey directed by the Indigenous strategy. ii’ taa’poh’to’p is truly foundational to me and the university. The robe will be treasured and displayed proudly.”

As an Elder and spiritual adviser to the Piikani First Nation, Crowshoe has been provided by the Elders of his community the privilege of making symbols. His training, provided in the form of ceremony, is akin to a student receiving a certificate in a trade. “When we look at stories from an oral culture, these stories are considered concrete and factual forms of information. When I create a robe, I record history as symbols of events that have happened throughout the year,” says Crowshoe.

Buffalo have provided many gifts to the people of Treaty 7

Robes are made from tanned hides. For the people of Treaty 7, buffalo hides carry a sacred meaning. “Creator created all creation,” begins Crowshoe. “Creator loved all creation and wanted all that is created to help each other to survive. This is why the buffalo gave its body to the people of Treaty 7 — as a gift. The people of this region survived because of the buffalo — making tools, providing shelter, making clothing, food and more. This is one more example of its gift.”

Campfire Chats is opportunity to build community connection

Crowshoe will present the robe to Hart on Monday, June 21 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. during Campfire Chats. Campfire Chats are an annual event that the university hosts for the wider Calgary community and in which an Elder (or Elders) are invited to speak about an aspect of Indigenous values and practices. The spirit behind Campfire Chats is one of sharing, speaking about different aspects of Indigenous culture and life. This year’s event is held online and open for anyone to register.

This year’s event includes Traditional Knowledge Keepers Lee Crowchild, former Chief of the Tsuut’ina First Nation; Piikani First Nation member and UCalgary’s Traditional Knowledge Keeper in Residence Dr. Reg Crowshoe and partner Rose Crowshoe; as well as Stoney Nakoda Bearspaw First Nation’s Rod Hunter. The event will be moderated by Elissa Twoyoungmen, University of Calgary’s Indigenous cultural education and protocol specialist, with special remarks provided by Hart.

Learn more about Campfire Chats.

ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being. Walking parallel paths together, ‘in a good way,’ UCalgary will move toward genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.