PUBlic Professor Series | Dr. Leroy Little Bear

The Comeback: The Parallel Experiences of the Blackfoot and the Buffalo

Dr. Leroy Little Bear, Department of Indigenous Studies

Photo credit: The Alberta Order of Excellence

According to some figures by scientists, the population of the Americas was around 125,000,000 people. Even though Jamestown was the first permanent British settlement in North America, the Spanish had been around for over a hundred years. During that period, the Spanish introduced diseases to which North American Indians had no immunity. Pandemics swept the continent. When the British built Jamestown, what they saw was survivors of those pandemics….witness Covid-19.

In a similar manner, it is estimated by scientists up to 60 million buffalo roamed the plains of North America. But within a few short decades of agricultural settlement of the West, the buffalo almost went extinct. However, in the past few decades, North American Indians are making a big comeback, not just in numbers, but making an impact in economics, politics, law, medicine, and science. In a similar manner, the buffalo is making a comeback in the form of recognition as a keystone species for the environment and a keystone species in the socio-cultural realm.

Leroy Little Bear was born and raised on the Blood Indian Reserve (Kainai First Nation), approximately 70 km west of Lethbridge, Alberta. One of the first Native students to complete a program of study at the University of Lethbridge, Little Bear graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1971. He continued his education at the College of Law, University of Utah, in Salt Lake City, completing a Juris Doctor Degree in 1975.

Following his graduation, Little Bear returned to his alma mater as a founding member of Canada's first Native American Studies department. He remained at the University of Lethbridge as a researcher, faculty member and department chair until his official retirement in 1997.

In recent years Little Bear has continued his influential work as an advocate for First Nations education. From January 1998 to June 1999 he served as Director of the Harvard University Native American Program. Upon his return to Canada, he was instrumental in the creation of a Bachelor of Management in First Nations Governance at the University of Lethbridge- the only program of its kind in the country.

In the spring of 2003, Little Bear was awarded the prestigious National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Education, the highest honour bestowed by Canada's First Nations community. Little Bear is the recipient of honorary doctorates from the University of Lethbridge and the University of Northern British Columbia. Along with his wife, Amethyst First Rider, Little Bear brought about the historic Buffalo Treaty between First Nations on both sides of the USA-Canada border in 2014. Little Bear was inducted into the Alberta Order Excellence and the Order of Canada in 2016 and 2019, respectively.

After a lifetime of educational service, Little Bear remains a dedicated and dynamic teacher and mentor to students and faculty at the University of Lethbridge. He continues to pursue new research interests including, North American Indian science and Western physics, and the exploration of Blackfoot knowledge through songs, stories and landscape.

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