Buffalo Bull Boat (2018)

January 13, 2018

Blackfoot believe that the Sun made the earth, the sun is gendered male and that he is the creator. The Sun is called Napi or Old Man, Napi is also a trickster. This is a creation story:

“In the beginning there was water everywhere; nothing else was to be seen. There was something floating on the water, and on this raft were Napi and all the animals.

Napi wished to make land, and he told the beaver to dive down to the bottom of the water and to try to bring up a little mud. The beaver dived and was under water for a long time, but he could not reach the bottom. Then the loon tried, and after him the otter, but the water was too deep for them. At last the muskrat was sent down, and he was gone for a long time; so long that they thought he must be drowned, but at last he came up and floated almost dead on the water, and when they pulled him up on the raft and looked at his paws, they found a little mud in them.

When Old Man had dried this mud, he scattered it over the water and land was formed.”
– Paraphrased George Bird Grinnell

For Gladstone’s Grow Op 2018, I researched Blackfoot methods of water transportation, the Blackfoot like most indigenous cultures on Turtle Island created boats for traversing rivers and lakes. This history has been lost to me and most Blackfoot people are unaware of our “Bull Boats”, round boats made from bison rawhide. They were amazingly durable and could haul thousands of pounds of material culture over lakes and rivers. They appear cumbersome and not refined as the canoe and other indigenous water craft, yet they are a real part of our history and material culture.

I recreated in small scale one of these boats, taking a few artistic liberties during the residency at Artscape on Toronto island, The “Buffalo Bull Boat” is a part of an installation that includes other elements such as light, water sounds, petroglyphs, willow and drawings. My desire is to create an installation that not only meets the theme of the residency “After the Flood”, but to transfer indigenous knowledge and history; to remind us that the Blackfoot did have water transportation and that through our creation stories, our human condition often begins with water and what comes after are the stories that bind the human family.

– Adrian Stimson 2018