Nov. 29, 2017

The Legacy of Tatanga Mani (Walking Buffalo)

A photo from UCalgary’s first convocation in 1966 unearths the rich past of a Stoney Nakoda leader
Daisy and David Crowchild, Howard and Mabel Beebe, President Herb Armstrong, Tatanga Mani (Walking Buffalo) and Ruth Gorman at the University of Calgary’s first convocation in 1966. Photo by Neil Crichton.

The University of Calgary’s first convocation in 1966. Photo by Neil Crichton.

University of Calgary Archives

On April 16, 1966, the University of Calgary hosted its inaugural convocation for 386 graduates at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. Just one day before, an amended University Act gave UCalgary autonomy from the University of Alberta, and Lieut.-Gov. Grant MacEwan installed Herbert S. Armstrong as president.

Pictured above, at the university's first convocation, from left: Daisy and David Crowchild, Howard and Mabel Beebe, President Herb Armstrong, Tatanga Mani (Walking Buffalo) and Ruth Gorman.

That day, 96-year-old Tatanga Mani (Walking Buffalo) posed for a photo with the newly appointed President Armstrong, as well as Daisy and David Crowchild, Howard and Mabel Beebe, and his good friend, Ruth Gorman, a lawyer who received an honorary doctorate for her advocacy work on behalf of the Indian Association of Alberta.

A visit to the university and a photograph with a friend 51 years ago leads further back still, to a rich life led by one of Canada’s best known and respected chiefs from the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.

Walking Buffalo was born in Morley in 1871, 34 years before Alberta was given provincial status. Adopted by a frontier missionary as a young boy, he was also known as George MacLean. At six years old he was at Blackfoot Crossing when the Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood), Piikani (Peigan), Stoney Nakoda (Chiniki, Bearspaw, Wesley), and Tsuut’ina (Sarcee) came together to sign Treaty 7. Promises were made and broken, and the face of the western prairies was forever changed. He saw the buffalo disappear from the Alberta plains, the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the height of the residential school system.

As councillor and later chief of the Bearspaw Band of the Stoney Nakoda from 1907 to 1916, Tatanga Mani became a respected leader in Morley and the surrounding area. The heart of his values and teachings lay in peace and understanding. In his book Tatanga Mani: Walking Buffalo of the Stonies, Grant MacEwan writes, “A lifetime spent communing with all living things truly blessed Tatanga Mani with gifts of understanding and deep personal strength. Whether spoken in tipi or temple, his message of love and respect for fundamental human dignity would never dim.”

"He was truly a legacy," Chiniki elder Charles Powderface reflects upon Walking Buffalo. As the great-great-grandson of Chief Chiniki, who was also present at the Treaty 7 signing, Powderface comes from a long line of traditional knowledge keepers. "Walking Buffalo taught people to respect our culture our way," he explains. "He set an example for us – of respect, humility and caring for each other, no matter who they were. Everyone was a brother and a sister to him."

At the age of 85, Walking Buffalo had the rare opportunity to share his convictions with the rest of the world. In the last decade of his life, he traveled 62,000 miles to 18 countries with support from the Moral Re-armament movement. Speaking engagements in Germany, London, Melbourne, South Africa, Miami and Hollywood all came with a simple message, “Let’s stop hating each other and start being brothers the way that the Great Spirit intended.” 

Over 50 years later, an archival photograph remains from Tatanga Mani’s visit to campus, but his lifelong mission to spread words of truth and acceptance have left a permanent impression on the University of Calgary and southern Alberta.

ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being. Walking parallel paths together, ‘in a good way,’ UCalgary will move towards genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.