Honouring the Buffalo

11 March 2015

Honouring the Buffalo: A Plains Cree Legend
Told by Ray Lavallee
Written by Judith Silverthorne
Illustrated by Mike Keepness
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Michelle Shaw
$14.95 ISBN: 978-1-927756-33-1

If you’ve ever wondered why the buffalo plays such a significant role in the culture and ceremonies of the Plains Cree, then this beautifully illustrated children’s book may assist you on your journey of discovery.

When I first opened the book, I was struck by the fact that the story is told simultaneously in English and in the Plains Cree language (Y dialect). I don’t speak Cree but as a relative newcomer to Canada and a linguistic nerd, I was intrigued by the opportunity to be introduced to, not only a story so intrinsic to Cree culture, but also to the language. I loved the fact that certain Cree words are given their phonetic pronunciation which I think enables a reader who may not be familiar with Cree to get a linguistic sense of the language and perhaps enables them to enter the story more fully.

The book is written by well-known Saskatchewan writer Judith Silverthorne, who wrote it based on an oral story told to her by Ray Lavallee, a Wisdom Keeper and Medicine Man from Piapot Cree First Nation.

I read the story with my ten-year-old daughter, who is in Grade 5 and is currently learning about First Nation myths and legends. We were both absolutely fascinated by the many ways the different parts of the buffalo were used in the everyday life of the Cree people. For instance, “my four-chambered stomach has a lining that can be used for containers and buckets to carry and store water…the content of my first stomach will help cure frostbite and skin diseases and provide a base for mixing paint.” Certain details were a little graphic for her ten-year-old sensitivities (she cringed a little when we read that the scrotum can be used to make rattles and small pouches) but overall she pronounced the book: “Very good.”

At the back of the book are colour photographs of some of the items mentioned in the story. Many are objects that readers who aren’t familiar with First Nation culture may never have seen before, such as a container made from the bladder of a buffalo, a broom made from the tail and snowshoes made with sinew mesh. The book also contains an educational guide and a number of intriguing facts about buffalo.

Reading this book, I felt very privileged to be given insight into a way of life, language and culture that I previously knew very little about.


No Comments

Comments are closed.