'Honouring the Buffalo: A Plains Cree Legend'
By Judith Silverthorne
A buffalo skull in a museum leads Grandfather and Grandson on a life-changing discovery. Grandson has no idea why the skull of an animal he has never seen is so revered in their native celebrations. So the two take a drive out of the city until they reach the rolling prairie. This begins "Honouring the Buffalo: A Plains Cree Legend," written by Judith Silverthorne. The book is a High Plains Book Awards finalist in both the children’s category and the art and photography category.
Looking at the wide-open spaces before them, Grandfather begins the tale of the Buffalo:
When the two-leggeds arrived on the Great Plains from the Northern Woodlands, Buffalo recognized they would need much aid. He went to the Creator and offered to help them. The Creator asked how he would do this. Buffalo answered the only way he could — he would give himself to the two-leggeds.
From there, Buffalo told the Creator more than 150 ways he would assist them. The most obvious were his hide for clothing, shelter and boats; his meat for food; his bones for tools and weapons. He added that they could make toys for children, moccasins and gloves for cold weather, and costumes for celebrations. Some of the more unusual items included his tongue for a hairbrush; his gall for yellow paints; his stomach to help cure skin disease; his dung for cooking fires. Because of Buffalo’s great sacrifice, his skull was to be considered sacred and honored long after he was gone.
When Grandfather finishes the legend, he closes his eyes and begins to sing a thanksgiving song. In the distance, Grandson sees a herd racing toward them. He squeezes Grandfather’s hand as he too begins to sing the ancient song. The buffalo move in a thundering roar as the two generations stand and give thanks to the one who sacrificed all.
Although Silverthorne wrote Honouring the Buffalo, this bilingual book is a collaborative effort of several people, including Wisdom Keeper/Medicine Man Ray Lavallee, who shared the legend of the buffalo. The paintings of Mike Keepness capture vivid images of native culture. The side-by-side translation is a great learning tool. It was a little hard to track at times when Buffalo related all the ways the two-leggeds could use him, but that may have been due to the font style. Otherwise, this is a wonderful re-telling of the legend of the Buffalo and a great teaching resource. The back of the book includes pictures of different items made from the buffalo, interesting buffalo facts, and an educational guide for different grade levels. I think a CD with both translations would be a great addition.
Everyone involved in this book has a passion to preserve the culture of the Plains Cree people. What better way to accomplish this than to tell it through the heart of a Grandfather who takes his Grandson on a journey to the past so the future will not be lost?
Penelope Kaye has written a monthly children’s column for a local newspaper.