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Chief Buffalo Memorial
Who was Chief Buffalo?
Chief Buffalo (circa 1759 – September 7, 1855), known as Bichiki (Bizhiki, Buffalo/Bison) and Gichi-waishke (Gichi-weshkiinh, literally Great Renewer but referencing the Woodland Buffalo/Bison), was a revered figure in the history of Ojibwe people in the western Lake Superior region. Born around 1759 at La Pointe on Madeline Island along the south shore of the lake, he was a member of the Loon clan. He became a compassionate leader for his people in dealings with the British and American governments.
In addition to the Treaty of 1854, which contained a provision setting aside a reserve of land for the chief in the future site of Duluth, Buffalo also signed the treaties of 1826, 1827, 1837, 1842, and 1847, which ceded land across what would become the territories and later states of Wisconsin and Minnesota. In 1852 Buffalo and others made a long journey to Washington, D.C. to protest the policies of Minnesota territorial officials who sought to remove all Ojibwe people from Wisconsin into Minnesota, centered on a government Indian agency at Sandy Lake (read about the Sandy Lake Tragedy HERE). In part through Buffalo's actions, policies were changed, resulting in the 1854 Treaty, which created permanent homes in reservations throughout the region, and also established the guarantee of hunting, fishing, and gathering rights for Ojibwe people.
About the murals:
The Chief Buffalo Memorial murals were designed and painted collaboratively by a team of artists led by Moira Villiard (Ojibwe and Lenape direct descendent), including Michelle Defoe (Red Cliff Band of Ojibwe), Awanigiizhik Bruce (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe), Sylvia Houle (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe), with assistance from over 500 community members and artists, including extra help and design work from Waylon Lanham, Mana Bear Bolton, and Conor Fairbanks. The walls feature both historical and contemporary depictions of Indigenous people connected to our region, maps of both treaty territories and Chief Buffalo’s famous journey, Ojibwe stories and folklore, and traditional florals designed by Michelle Defoe. This project was honored in a ceremony in 2019 and continues to serve as a space for reflection and gathering for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members.
The Chief Buffalo Memorial mural project was an idea rooted in the vision of some of Chief Buffalo's eldest descendants - namely Robert Buffalo (Red Cliff Tribe Hereditary Chief) and Henry Buffalo Jr. - as well as the Duluth Indigenous Commission. It grew as a pilot project in 2019 through Zeitgeist Community and their efforts to improve the connections between Canal Park/The Lake Walk, the parks, and downtown Duluth.
The project was well-received by the community and blessed in ceremony with a feast and community painting session at Gichi-Ode Akiing. The impact of Chief Buffalo and his story is not limited to just the Native community, but is relevant to all who call Duluth and our region home. He is a part of our collective history as Minnesotans and should be honored as such through the sharing of his story across generations. As momentum continues to grow, we are in the final stages of launching a nonprofit in conjunction with the project and developing more ideas and programming in the space.