From Maskwacis to Las Vegas: Meet Kris Buffalo, an Indigenous professional bullfighter
'It’s about getting as close as you can without getting run over,' he says of his unexpected profession
Kris Buffalo isn't a stereotypical bullfighter.
He isn't Spanish and doesn't don a red cape to attract the bull. He doesn't wear red, because he says that's a myth; the bulls are more attracted to movement.
He's an Indigenous man from Maskwacis, wearing face paint and a rodeo clown outfit.
But just like the traditional Spanish matadors, Buffalo still puts himself at risk.
"It's about getting as close as you can without getting run over," Buffalo says. He's been kicked in the face before, but he says it's just a part of his profession.
"Those animals were bred to kill, so it's kind of that factor that you have to put aside."
Buffalo just finished competing in the Bullfighters Only Championship in Las Vegas. Fighters enter the ring and the bulls enter shortly after. The fight lasts for up to one minute. Buffalo finished third in his bracket, missing a chance to move on by half a point.
Bullfighting is a chance for Buffalo to compete instead of working as a rodeo clown, where his job is to distract the bulls from the riders after their performance.
"Our line of work is a lot different than riding because they only ride them one time," Buffalo says. "We could fight maybe from six to even 30 bulls at a time, so your adrenaline is constantly there."
Buffalo says he does the high-risk work because of the adrenaline rush but also because of the camaraderie with the riders, who are thankful for the clowns' protection.
"We put our bodies on the line for that rider, whether it be getting horned or, in some cases, getting stepped on in protecting that person," he says.
Buffalo comes from a rodeo family, and in a community with an extensive rodeo history, he was primed to be involved in rodeo somehow.
"As First Nations people, we have that connection to four-legged animals," he says. But he didn't have an interest in riding any of them.
"The last thing I actually rode was a sheep when I was five years old," Buffalo says. But he was athletic, and after going to rodeo school at age 20, he found his skill set lent itself well to rodeo protection.
Ten years later, Buffalo is on big stages across North America fighting bulls for a living. "I didn't expect it to turn into a profession and to be this big in the sport," he says.
He says his wife and two kids, aged nine and four, travel with him often. "I'm very fortunate that my wife allows it," Buffalo says.
The family's summer often revolves around Buffalo's career, and rodeo life is all his kids have ever known.
Now, he uses his platform to help inspire others from his community.
When he's not on the road, he's a kindergarten assistant at a Maskwacis school. He'll often show pictures or video of his performances to some of the students, using it as a way to connect with them and show them what hard work can do for them.
"There has been a lot of Indigenous youth reaching out to me and saying how inspirational it is and how I motivated them, seeing me on a big stage," Buffalo says.
"It's very humbling to feel support from the First Nations, not only in Canada but in America as well."
Though he placed third in his bracket in Las Vegas, Buffalo is right back in the gym preparing for his next competition on New Year's Eve in Ponoka, Alta.
"It kind of hit me [Tuesday] night at the gym that I was just a half a point out [from advancing]," Buffalo says. "It's not so much a bitter feeling, it's more like a mental push to work hard again."