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Tatanga Mani (Walking Buffalo)

Six years before the signing of Treaty 7 at Blackfoot Crossing, Walking Buffalo was born in 1871 near the Bow River in what is now southern Alberta. He was still very young when his mother died, and he was adopted by a Methodist missionary named John McLean who gave him the McLean surname and the first name of George. He was educated at the Morley orphanage school until he turned sixteen, and then he was transferred to the Red Deer Industrial School. He pursued additional education for several years at St. John's College in Winnipeg. He worked as a scout for the Mounted Police in Calgary and later did some work as a blacksmith in Calgary before returning to life on the Morley Reserve, where he worked as an interpreter for the Stoney Council. Among the Nakoda, he became a medicine man and a revered Elder whose philosophy was rooted in First Nations spirituality and tradition. In 1920, he was elected Chief of the Nakoda First Nation.

Walking Buffalo advocated a spirit of peace and understanding among the various First Nations and also between First Nations and the peoples of the world. In 1958, he and a small group of First Nations people from Alberta travelled the world, spreading the philosophy of peace and native wisdom. In four months, the group visited twenty-seven countries, speaking words of peace and cultural harmony with the natural world. Uncompromising in his beliefs, Walking Buffalo stressed the need for people to accept First Nations people for who they are.

Walking Buffalo championed the idea of bridging the old and new in Western Canadian history. He firmly believed in the preservation of Aboriginal culture through tribal customs, ceremonies, songs, and dance. Ancient Indian mysticism, according to Walking Buffalo, should not be lost in Aboriginal people's lives regardless of the impact and influence of white people. Walking Buffalo emphasized this idea when he emphatically stated, "We have lost our land and freedom but we do not have to lose our habits." The Chief of the Stoney people recognized the lack of understanding non-Aboriginal people demonstrated toward Aboriginal culture, and he strongly encouraged people to live together in tolerant understanding. People can learn and appreciate other cultures while continuing to value their own.

Walking Buffalo was in the Aboriginal vanguard for cultural heritage. MacEwan regarded him in the highest honour, and he became one of the leading authorities on Aboriginal storytelling. The trouble was that as good a teacher he was he found few people outside the Aboriginal community who were willing to listen. For instance, Walking Buffalo knew much about the natural world and wanted to share his wisdom with others. MacEwan and Walking Buffalo both agreed that society had much to learn not necessarily from books and news sources.

Walking Buffalo's ongoing struggle to captivate non-Aboriginals with his message was similar to MacEwan's efforts in teaching Western Canadian history to the general public. When MacEwan was able to talk with Walking Buffalo in person, the worldly Cree Chief kept emphasizing how non-Aboriginals refused to embrace his ideals. "Trouble is, white people don't listen. They never listened to the Indians, and so I don't suppose they'll listen to the other voices in nature," stated Walking Buffalo in an interview. MacEwan's challenge in presenting Western Canadian history to the public also was rooted in a lack of awareness and interest. History books tended to focus on British history and largely ignored the development of the West. MacEwan and Walking Buffalo worked steadfastly at spreading their ideas and sharing their stories.

Resources

MacEwan, Grant. Fifty Mighty Men. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1971. See the article, "Medicine Man with Message", 235.

-----. Tatanga Mani: Walking Buffalo of the Stonies. Edmonton: M.G. Hurtig, 1969.


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