As part of the week’s events recognizing the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Lethbridge College unveiled what the college calls “a sign of the ongoing work to understand traditional cultures and ways of knowing.” 

The traditional Buffalo Winter Count Robe serves as a record of major events at the institution and was painted by William Singer III (Api’soomaahka/Running Coyote) a Kainai knowledge keeper and artist who explains “each symbol has a story, and they all fit into each other and form a chain.” 

Made from the hide of a buffalo from Piikani Nation, the Winter Count Robe features pictographs representing events which were chosen collaboratively by various departments at the college in consultation with Kainai Kaahsinnoonik (Grandparent) Peter Weasel Moccasin (Miiniipooka/Berry Child). 

“Not only does it tell the story of the college in a meaningful way, but it also is a way for us to lead in implementing the actions of the Truth and Reconciliation Comission. This robe will serve as a visual reminder that the college’s history and the history of the Siksikaitsitapi are inexorably linked,” says President and CEO of Lethbridge College Brad Donaldson. 

Lethbridge College says the traditional Buffalo Winter Count Robe will be in attendance at various ceremonial events, including convocation, but otherwise will be displayed on campus for visitors, staff, and students to see and learn from. 

The winter count, says the college, “is a pictorial calendar or history painted on a buffalo hide created by many Northern Great Plains First Nations that carries the story of a community. Traditionally, each nation would choose a single keeper of the winter count; each year, at the first snowfall, the keeper would consult with elders to reach a consensus for choosing a name and pictograph for the year, and then would add that image to the robe. These Winter Count robes were used as guideposts in transmitting oral tradition and history.”

“Winter Counts were created and are still created as a way of communicating, of transferring knowledge,” says Singer. “Looking at a history, this robe tells the story of the college. It’s for teaching as well. Some of the symbols are straightforward. Others have different meanings. And there are also elements where you have to take action. Each symbol has a story, and they all fit into each other and form a chain until the end, and once you fill up a hide, you start another. There is space left on the college’s winter count so the story can be added to.”

The colleges says its Indigenous Services team thought the Winter Count robe “would not only be a prominent symbol of traditional Blackfoot Territory on campus, but it would also reaffirm the close relationship between the college and Indigenous communities in southern Alberta – specifically the Piikani and Kainai First Nations.”

By Theodora Macleod, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 28, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Lethbridge Herald    Lethbridge, Alberta

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