Traditional Indigenous robe painted with colonial history gifted to University of Regina

A traditional Buffalo Winter Count Robe was given to the University of Regina from a local Indigenous knowledge keeper to be used as a teaching tool and to support the university as it works toward reconciliation.

The artist is one of the last known robe painters in Saskatchewan

Wayne Goodwill, a member of Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation, is one of the last known traditional robe painters in Saskatchewan and provided the University of Regina with a robe depicting the last 200 years of Indigenous history on the prairies. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC News)

The University of Regina was presented with a traditional Indigenous robe on Thursday from one of the last known robe painters in the province.

The traditional Buffalo Winter Count Robe, painted with images to represent the history of the plains First Nations people in the past 200 years, was described by its painter as a storytelling robe that paints various stories all around it.

"Today was a very special day," said Wayne Goodwill, the robe painter and a knowledge keeper from Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation, located about 65 kilometres northeast of Regina. "We hope that this buffalo robe [will] be educational for all young people."

He said he started painting the robe in the spring of 2021, and it took him all summer and into the fall, finishing in November.

A traditional Buffalo Winter Count Robe painted by Wayne Goodwill, a member of the Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation, to be used for educational purposes at the University of Regina. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC News)

When asked about how unique this robe was, given that Indigenous history is often recorded orally, Goodwill said the painting images on these types of robes was one of the ways Indigenous people recorded history.

Painting robes is passed on through generations, he added. Goodwill has heard different stories from his grandparents and great grandparents growing up and he likes to relay them, especially educationally, though not all of them are kid-friendly, he said.

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He said his grandfather used to tell him he would only tell him the story once, so he had to listen well.

"The pictures … tell a story of what the First Nations went through here in Saskatchewan," he said.

"It tells the whole story from the beginning of the horse days to the treaties to the residential school days and to the new university back here."

Lori Campbell, the associate vice-president of Indigenous engagement at the University of Regina, said the robe is going to be used for educational purposes.

In a news release, the university said its commitment to truth and reconciliation is one of five aspects outlined in the university's strategic plan, which details how it will pursue reconciliation through teaching, research and learning. Using this robe for education falls into that scope.

"It's an opportunity where we have lots of different students and visitors come and we can teach them about the past of Indigenous peoples in Canada and also contemporary reality," Campbell said.

"Before we can have reconciliation we need to have truth and this robe depicts the pictures of the truth so that people can learn."

With files from Richard Agecoutay