Arriving from the underworld, the sky world and the Four Sacred Directions, animals were placed upon the earth by the Creator. Among them were the horse, buffalo, deer, coyote, wolf and dog. These sacred beings are part of every aspect of the daily life and the spiritual beliefs of the people of the Plains and Plateau.
Buffalo and Deer — Sustainers of Life
When treated with respect, the buffalo and deer allowed themselves to be killed to provide food and materials for clothing, shelter and tools. They communicated with people of the Plains and Plateau through dreams and were called upon during periods of hunger or war, the hunt and at other times of need.
Every member of the community engaged in the hunt, contributing his or her special skills and gifts. Dogs sometimes assisted in the hunt and worked as pack animals. Horses made it possible to cover more territory and increased the chances of a successful hunt. The horse's strength and endurance also allowed hunters to carry home more meat.
The people of the Plains and Plateau expressed their special relationship with these sacred beings through stories and images. Stories tell of the time when these animals could speak. Images of the animals were carved, painted or depicted in symbolic form in beaded and quilled designs added to war and medicine tipis, clothing and sacred objects. Such images reminded people of the gifts of these sacred beings.
The relationship between humans and animals was also expressed through ritual observance. Sacred ceremonies, vision quests, prayers and songs were opportunities for people to thank sacred beings for their gifts and to seek their assistance in future endeavours. Objects that carried symbols of the horse, buffalo, deer, coyote, wolf and dog were used on these occasions to call upon the spirits of these animals.
The horse played a special role in the life of Plains and Plateau peoples as people made the transition from hunting to ranching and working as cowboys. People devoted time and money to honouring the horse by decorating saddles, bridles, cruppers and martingales, reflecting their pride in their animals.
The relationship with the horse, dog, coyote, buffalo and deer has changed over time, but the spiritual and everyday encounters with these sacred beings remain an important part of many people's lives.