As the 2022 Moonlight Run winds down from its annual event, there is an important story to learn about this year’s logo design done by Chataya Holy Singer, which she explains is centred around Blackfoot culture and tales of the buffalo and buffalo hunters.
Chataya is an emerging Blackfoot artist and a student in Indigenous Studio Art at the University of Lethbridge. She created the logo based around the buffalo, the prominent symbol of Blackfoot culture. As she was working on the logo design in the early stages, Chataya says she had an epiphany of the iniskim.
“The iniskim is the buffalo calling stone. The whole story behind the iniskim talks about the buffalo hunts and also the origins of the Pisskan, the buffalo jump. The iniskim was a tool that we used in the ceremonies that helped the buffalo runners in the buffalo jump have a successful hunt. It made them run faster and made the buffaloes topple over the cliff, and it helped in the process of that. I wanted to do the iniskim as a main symbol.”
Chataya worked with pictographs to simplify the design and found that she loved how the buffalo looked in that form. As she worked on the design, she added the Matapi symbol at the top, to represent the Blackfoot people and signify human beings.
The Significance of Running for the Blackfoot
The Blackfoot were persistence hunters, which as Chataya explains, meant running after animals until they dropped from exhaustion. It is well known that humans can run at a steady pace for hours without incurring total exhaust or oxygen debt. It is this knowledge that inspired the design of the logo for the Moonlight Run.
“So, the Blackfeet or the Prairie People, Saokitapix, were ultra-marathon runners, and that's kind of where I put into my artist statement that we had the subsistence strategy of running our prey to exhaustion, and running was a critical part of buffalo hunting to survive on the prairies.”
“Anybody capable of running 26.2 miles of the modern marathon in three to five hours could survive as a prey hunter. So, that really was the drive behind the design centred around the Blackfoot, the perspective of running in terms of a subsistence strategy, ceremony, origin stories, and why those symbols are the way they are,” Chataya says.
The logo itself is centred around Blackfoot culture and uses the buffalo to represent a source of life, while also illustrating the different elements of the iniskim and highlighting the subsistence strategies of the buffalo runners. Chataya’s logo integrates ceremony, culture and language to talk about the origin stories of the Pisskan and the iniskim.
“We have to start with Pisskan, which is the buffalo jump. You had one or two fast runners who were selected from the youths, and a pit was dug at the side of the cliff so the runners could quickly conceal themselves as the bison push past them over the drop,” Chataya says. “Then for the ceremonial aspects, the Medicine Woman or Man sings buffalo songs and accompanies themselves with rattles, and she directs the fastest runner to be brought to her. Then she lights the pipe and goes through the ritual.”
“There are one or two licorice roots. They're rubbed on the feet and head and back of the runners in order to induce the buffalo to stumble on their feet. So, the Medicine Woman then takes a buffalo chip and moulds it into the figure of a buffalo. The buffalo chip comes prior to the introduction of the iniskim. Before we had the iniskim, we used buffalo chips, which are dried buffalo dung that we used as chips as part of our rituals and ceremonies. So, she then takes the buffalo chips, moulds it into the figure of a buffalo and paints it and lays it next to the altar to smudge with.”
“Then the runner is meant to imitate the bison, circling a herd before it got light out, this was during the time of the Morning Star and he provokes the bull. After the bull chases the V-point of the Pisskan of the cliff, he will then swing it into the pit that’s stuck on the side and then the herd falls over the cliff. That's how the buffalo runners had a successful hunt and that was the process of it.”
Chataya notes there are several side stories to the origin story, such as the one that details how buffalo chip plates were used to offer food to the three spirits: Red Antelope, Hard Wind Old Man, and Wears Red Feather In Hair.
“Red Antelope is a famous buffalo runner of the south Piegans (the Blackfeet), and he was the fastest runner, named Mikoaukasi, known as Red [Painted] Antelope [Clothing]. His clothing was made of antelope skins, when antelope was the fastest animal known to the Blackfeet and painted with red earth; he also wore two tail feathers of the Sparrow Hawk, who was the fastest bird, in his hair as a power token from this bird, as clothing also represented power from the antelope as well.”
“We had another spirit, his name is Hard Wind Old Man, Iyikssopapi, as is Wears Red Feather in Hair, who is known as Ikotsikimani. The former, Hard Wind Old Man, controls the winds, and then the latter, Wears Red Feather is a cloud spirit. These two spirits plus Red Antelope are responsible for luring the bison into the Piskaan, hence food is offered to them on buffalo chip plates,” Chataya explains.
“If people fail to feed Hard Wind Old Man, the wind would blow with great force; likewise for the cloud spirit, if not fed would cause a hard rain and winds. The cloud spirit, Ikotsikimani was regarded as the most powerful and Red Antelope had the power from both. So thus, the Medicine Woman feeds all three spirits on buffalo chip plates that were then placed on a clean, grassy spot in the hilltop for the three spirits. The runner then brings in the Buffalo to the jump, which is called “Auakiu.””
Underneath the symbol of the buffalo in the logo is the iniskim, in yellow. To the left of the iniskim is the mountains that represent the west-east movement of the Blackfoot onto the prairies. To the right of the iniskim are buffalo tracks to symbolize the journey that the Blackfoot had to take to be able to reach the buffalo to hunt it.
Chataya says there are several different versions of the origin story for the iniskim, but provides a general overview of the significance of the stone to the Blackfoot.
“There was a woman who was outside and she was washing up, and she heard singing, and it sounded like a bird. She was listening and then she heard whispering and saw that there was a tuft of buffalo hair on a tree. When she looked down, there was a little stone that was talking to her, and it gave her the instructions on how to create the Pisskan.”
“When the iniskim came to use, they used that instead of the buffalo chip plates, offering and praying to it to have a successful hunt. So, if you do have an iniskim and you activate it and you pray with it, you'll never go hungry a day in your life. That's kind of what the symbol of the iniskim is, it's like abundance. So, you'll always be fed no matter what.”
This is not Chataya’s first time designing a logo—she has also worked on designing logos for Orange Shirt Day, also known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Chataya started in 2019 by designing a logo for Lethbridge’s Indigenous Awareness Week, an opportunity that came through her job at Saamis Aboriginal Employment. Chataya was mentored by Katie-Jo Rabbit at Saamis, who encouraged her to build the logo design. In 2020, Chataya was asked to design the logo again for the city. Then, in 2021, Chataya was commissioned to design a logo for Orange Shirt Day for the University of Lethbridge in collaboration with the City of Lethbridge. The story of her logo design is explained in detail here.
Through this experience, Chataya was then contacted by organizers at the Moonlight Run to design their logo, after seeing her work for Orange Shirt Day. Over the next few months, Chataya was able to design the image that will be featured for the run. Steeped in history and significance, Chataya says the logo can also be looked at as the ikkitstakssin (offering) symbolizing the reciprocity of life, and most importantly, balance.
“The buffalo gave its life for our survival, which is why we honour the buffalo in our ceremonies, songs, dances and prayers. It is the symbol of life.”