Plains Indians and the Buffalo
Home Radio Television Curio.ca
CAPH banner left CAPH banner centre CAPH banner right
The First Peoples
Plains Indians and the Buffalo
Header 3 Header 4 Header 5
History Home
Plains Indians and the Buffalo
A thousand years after the West Coast culture took shape, around 6,000 BC, a plains culture formed around the buffalo. The buffalo supplied the Plains Indians -- Blood, Sarcee, Peigan and Blackfoot among others - with almost everything they needed. Hides were dressed and made into clothing and stretched onto poles to construct tipis. Sinews were used for bow strings and the stomachs made into kettles.
Early Hunters, 1575, National Archives of Canada C-99345
Early Hunters, 1575, National Archives of Canada C-99345
The people believed the buffalo were a gift from their god. In a Blackfoot hunting story, Old Man creates mankind out of clay blowing life into the human forms. "They asked him, 'What are we to eat?' He made many images of clay in the form of buffalo.

Then he blew breath on these, and they stood up: and when he made signs to them, they started to run. Then he said to the people, 'Those are your food.' They said to him, 'Well, now, we have those animals; how are we to kill them?' 'I will show you,' he said.

He took them to a cliff, and made them build rock piles; and he made the people hide behind these piles of rock, and said, 'When I lead the buffalo this way, as I bring them opposite to you, rise up.'"
Early Hunters, 1575, National Archives of Canada C-99344
Early Hunters, 1575, National Archives of Canada C-99344
The buffalo hunt involved most of the village, including women and some children. It was a dangerous and fragile process. The buffalo had to be successfully herded either by drovers or by fire into a corral. In the foothills they were usually herded to a cliff and a nasty, crowded landing.

The prominence of certain sites meant that they were coveted by more than one tribe and their use prompted political alliances. Several bands might co-operate on a particular hunt, or agree to what was tantamount to a time-sharing agreement.
On the plains the first peoples dressed buffalo hides to make clothing and coverings for tipis. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
On the plains the first peoples dressed buffalo hides to make clothing and coverings for tipis. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
At Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump near Lethbridge, Alberta, the traffic was so heavy that an independent native police force was established to ensure everyone followed the rules. The hunting site was in use for 5,000 years and archeologists have uncovered thirty separate routes to the cliff.

Because the buffalo tended to follow the same migratory routes, the same jumps were used annually, resulting in a wild bloody ritual that yielded meat and skins for the season. At some sites the buffalo bones are fifteen feet deep.

top of page


Last Topic:
Nuu'chah'nulth

Current Topic:
Plains Indians and the Buffalo

Next Topic:
Beliefs and Rituals
The First Peoples
Reconstructing Life
Origins of Human Life
Women and Men
Huron and Corn
Nuu'chah'nulth
Plains Indians and the Buffalo
Beliefs and Rituals
Inuit: Survival Stories
NEXT CHAPTER:
Times of War and Peace
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

history home | explore the episodes | biographies | teacher resources | bibliography | games and puzzles | sitemap | contact us
cbc home | tv episode summaries | merchandise | press releases | behind the scenes | audio/video

copyright � 2001 CBC