TRAPPN#17

by jssckr

Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill, Montreal, QC, 1885

William Notman & Son

Silver salts on glass – Gelatin dry plate process

McCord Museum, Montreal

II-83124

Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill, Montreal, QC, 1885

William Notman & Son

Silver salts on glass – Gelatin dry plate process

McCord Museum, Montreal

II-83126

Buffalo Bill and his troup, Montreal, QC, 1885

William Notman & Son

Silver salts on glass – Gelatin dry plate process

McCord Museum, Montreal

II-94132

Buffalo Bill, Montreal, QC, 1885

William Notman & Son

Silver salts on glass – Gelatin dry plate process

McCord Museum, Montreal

II-83121.1

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the culture of North America’s first nation’s people during colonization thanks to my Art History education, and the above photos of “Buffalo” Bill Cody and Hunkpapa Chief Sitting Bull from the Notman Collection at the McCord continually resonate with me. Sitting Bull remains one of the most recognizable and romanticized “Indian” figures of his time, as a Sioux war hero and storyteller, as well as a willing sitter for photographers, for whom native subjects meant big business. Although Cody and Sitting Bull had a controversial relationship, whereby Sitting Bull’s participation in Cody’s famous Wild West show is viewed by many post-colonial theorists as oppressive and commandeering, Cody was an early and avid supporter of native rights.

Such misguided empathy is an element of the relationship between colonizers and the natives that is often difficult to wrap one’s head around. Although Cody felt he was an advocate for the rights of the natives, the general understanding among the “whites” was that native assimilation would be ultimately beneficial, and that meant sweeping the centuries of first nation’s spiritual beliefs under the rug. With the banning of prized ceremonies like the potlatch and the ghost dance following the Indian Act, it’s clear why native populations felt animosity towards their colonizers.

As an aside, “Buffalo” Bill was clearly influenced by his troup members sartorially, and sports various native-influenced garments such as an embroidered Metis dress shirt (photos 1,2, and 3) and a fringed prairie overcoat (photo 4).