Small bison lanterns at a previous presentation of the Iniskim experience
Small bison lanterns at a previous presentation of the Iniskim experience. Peter Balkwill

Sept. 2, 2022

Lanterns, camera, action! Immersive puppet-lantern performance honours return of the buffalo

Barrier Lake Field Station hosts story of bison's reintroduction to Banff National Park

Recently, visitors to the Barrier Lake Field Station were met with a new kind of wilderness experience as the evening woods were filled with the beautifully haunting sights and sounds of Iniskim: Return of the Buffalo.

The immersive experience began with guests creating their own lanterns as dusk slowly faded to darkness. As the dark settled in, participants were led on a walk through the woods, with only lanterns, drumming and singing to guide them.

Large bison lantern puppet at the Barrier Lake Field Station

Large bison lantern puppet at the Barrier Lake Field Station.

Adrienne Cunnings

Walkers were enchanted by glimpses of softly glowing lanterns through the tall grasses and trees, accompanied by singing, traditional drumming and ethereal sounds of nature. Lanterns took the form of curious coyotes, sleeping bison or playfully dancing spirits.

Following the walk, intricate lantern and mask puppetry was used alongside spoken word, song and dance to tell the story of the buffalo, from its creation, to its extermination and present-day reintroduction into the nearby Banff National Park. The story wove together First Nations traditional knowledge, historical events and western science, and the experience ended with an opportunity for participants to join performers in a round dance to connect with the land and celebrate the return of the buffalo.

Project re-tells story of the buffalo

Iniskim: Return of the Buffalo is collaborative project presented by the Canadian Academy of Mask and Puppetry which uses lantern sculpture, puppetry, spoken word, traditional Blackfoot song, dance and Nakoda drumming to re-tell the story of the buffalo in North America.

Peter Balkwill preparing to guide participants through the forest to the stage area

Peter Balkwill prepares to guide participants through the forest to the stage area.

Courtesy Peter Balkwill

The experience was originally created in 2018 by Amethyst First Rider, Troy Emery Twigg. David Lane, Nan Balkwill, and Peter Balkwill with support from elders Tom Crane Bear, Raymond Many Bears, Patrick Twigg, and Beverly Hungry Wolf.

A 2022 revised version was presented at the Barrier lake Field Station from Aug. 8 to 10 as a part of the 2022 World Stage Design Conference, featuring new stories and writing from Thomas King, Leroy Little Bear, Wes Olson and Amethyst First Rider.

Peter Balkwill, UCalgary professor in the School of Creative and Performing Arts in drama, was an integral part of this year's production, bringing the stories together and producing the show as a part of his research. The performance at the Barrier Lake Field Station was led by storyteller Lorne Duquette of the Mistawasis Nehyewak, and featured the return of the Eya Hey Nakota drummers under the direction of Anders Hunter, a song from Olivia Tailfeathers, and the Iniskim Choir.

The University of Calgary was honoured to host Iniskim: Return of the Buffalo at the Barrier Lake Field Station. The experience was a wonderful success thanks to the many creators, designers, Elders, performers and others who were involved in the project. To find out more about the project, including updates about future performances visit their website.