On our recent tour called The Bison and Its People at Fort Whyte Alive we went into a tipi with our guide to learn about the many different ways the First Nations people used bison.
My friend Sandy from Hong Kong is entering the tipi after receiving instructions from the guide that to be polite and respectful we must always move to the right once we enter a tipi. Apparently, it takes anywhere from 8 to 20 bison hides to make a tipi. Once we were seated inside our guide had many artifacts to show us that demonstrated all the ways the Plains Indians used the bison. Although my husband Dave tried to use a bison bone for a kind of harmonica our guide Lisa told us the Plains Indians used the bone to clean hides. The bones were also used as needles, awls, hoes, and tent pegs. They were fashioned into scrapers, knives, spear handles, shovels, clubs and used in the construction of winter sleds. The bison’s thick hide wasn’t just good for making tipis but also for drums, masks, snowshoes, shirts, moccasins, leggings, dresses, belts, bedding, mittens, caps, belts, bags, and dolls. Dave is touching some bison hair that has been shed from its shaggy coat. The bison hair made a soft lining for blankets, pouches, cradles, coats, and moccasins. It was used to make rope, ornaments, medicine balls, and pillow stuffing. Bison sinew became thread and bowstrings.Even the bison’s hooves were used to make glue, rattles, and hatchets for butchering animals. Dave is reaching over to try and tickle our friend Tad with a bison tail. The Plains Indians didn’t use the tail for tickling but rather as a fly swatter, lodge decoration, and whip.Of course, the main use of the bison was meat. The organs, ribs, rump, and tongue were delicacies and the rest of the meat was dried and mixed with berries, nuts or seeds to make pemmican and jerky. Dave is acting silly by putting the bison horn on his head but the bison horn wasn’t for fooling around. It was made into cups, ladles, powder horns, spoons, toys, and headdresses. The bison dung or poop which we saw during our drive through the bison herd was used for fuel.
The bison’s bladder, stomach, and intestines were used to make water containers. The Plains Indians were ingenious when it came to recycling every single part of the bison. They had many more than 50 ways to use a bison.
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