Case Study

The Buffalo Treaty in Kainai

Led by Naatoi’Ihkpiakii (Melissa Quesnelle) (PA/Case Lead)

The Kainai Nation is part of the Siksikaitsitapi | Blackfoot Confederacy, whose territory stretches between the Rocky Mountains, the Great Sandhills, the North Saskatchewan River, and Yellowstone River. European arrival on the Plains in the 1800s severely disrupted the Siksikaitsitapi time immemorial relationship to Iinnii | Buffalo as settlers hunted Iinnii to near extinction. In 2014, to honour, recognize, and revitalize their relationship to Iinnii, 13 Nations across US-Canada borders established an intertribal alliance to restore Iinnii to 6.3 million acres of land and to support Buffalo Ways across six Treaty Articles: Conservation, Culture, Economics, Health, Education, and Research. In 2024, the Blackfoot Confederacy, along with over 120 international signatories, will celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Buffalo Treaty in Akainaiwa. During this celebration, we will host our site visit and first annual Gathering.


This Case will amplify the lessons learned about Blackfoot Determinants of Planetary Health from the rematriation of Iinnii. How has the return of Iinnii shaped human and environmental health and wellbeing? Using a Siksikaitsitapi time frame of kiipíppo ki kiipíppo | the next 100 years and then 100 more, we will vision what is required to live together in good relations with our relative, Iinnii, who leads us in nurturing our land, water, plants, and other animals and beings. This Case has two objectives: (1) to assess the impact of restoring Blackfoot relational treaty with the Iinnii through storytelling, artistic practice, song-gathering, and ceremony-science; and (2) to document, through conversational interviews and participant-observation, the restoration of land-based, seasonally contiguous cultural and spiritual practices that have also returned along with the Buffalo. The outcomes of this work will include an Elders Dialogue Series on Biodiversity & Wellness during an Iinnii Rematriation exhibit taking place at Akaisamitokpanao’pa | Galt Museum & Archives/Fort Whoop-up; and a three-year seasonal round of knowledge transfer grounded in Blackfoot epistemology of watch-do-teach. We will enact annual cycles of the relational practices in all-smoke-ceremony and tobacco-dance — a critical environmental benchmarking process absent from Kainai territory for over 150 years; and document 10+ endangered Blackfoot-language plant-songs essential to reciprocity in Blackfoot land stewardship.

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Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark

Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark is a Turtle Mountain Anishinaabekwe and an associate professor in the School of Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria. She is the director of the Centre for Indigenous Research and Community-Led Engagement (CIRCLE). She has a PhD in American studies from the University of Minnesota. Her research interests include Indigenous law and governance, Treaty rights and Indigenous politics in the United States and Canada. Focused on both Anishinaabe and US/CA law, her recent work explores the criminalization of Indigenous sovereignty, conditions of consent, and gendered violence.

Niiyokamigaabaw Deondre Smiles

Niiyokamigaabaw Deondre Smiles is a Black/Ojibwe/settler citizen of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe; their research interests include Indigenous epistemologies, political ecology, and tribal cultural resource protection.


Heather Castleden

Heather Castleden is a white researcher, with English and Scottish ancestry. Trained as a geographer, she brings leadership expertise in community-led, participatory research and works in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples on their priority research issues. Her research group (HEC Lab) is committed to work that intersects with places, peoples, power, and justice using creative, participatory, and decolonizing approaches. She is a Professor at the University of Victoria where she holds the Impact Chair in Transformative Governance for Planetary Health.


Heather Castleden

Heather Castleden is a white researcher, with English and Scottish ancestry. Trained as a geographer, she brings leadership expertise in community-led, participatory research and works in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples on their priority research issues. Her research group (HEC Lab) is committed to work that intersects with places, peoples, power, and justice using creative, participatory, and decolonizing approaches. She is a Professor at the University of Victoria where she holds the Impact Chair in Transformative Governance for Planetary Health.


Hōkūlani Aikau

Hōkūlani Aikau is a Kanaka ‘Ōiwi (Native Hawaiian) interdisciplinary scholar, a Professor, and Director of the School of Indigenous Governance. She brings leadership expertise and interdisciplinary training in Indigenous Politics, Native Hawaiian Politics, and Pacific Islands Studies. Her research focus is contemporary Native Hawaiian identity, Indigenous resurgence and climate change in the Pacific, Indigenous environmental justice, Native Feminist Theory, and food sovereignty.

Tiara Naputi

Tiara Na’puti is Chamorro from Guåhan/Guam. She is an Associate Professor in Global and International Studies (University of California-Irvine). Her scholarship and community work addresses militarism, colonialism, Indigenous culture, and movements in the Mariana Islands archipelago and throughout Oceania. Her current focus is on climate change as an urgent challenge brought about by colonial and military politics, and Indigenous-led struggles to protect water and land from militarization and extractive industries.

Carey Newman

Carey Newman (Hayalthkin’geme) is Kwakwaka’wakw from the Kukwekum, Giiksam, and WaWalaby’ie clans, and Coast Salish from Cheam of the Stó:lō Nation. He is a multidisciplinary Indigenous artist, master carver, filmmaker, and author. He focuses on the impacts of colonialism and capitalism, harnessing the power of material truth to unearth memory and trigger the necessary emotion to drive positive change. He holds the Impact Chair in Indigenous Art Practices at UVic.

Naatoi'Ihkpiakii Melissa Quesnelle

Naatoi’Ihkpiakii Melissa Quesnelle is a citizen of Kainai Nation, an Aohkimiiksi and a practitioner of Nitsitapiisinni.


Much of her work is grounded in land-based community engagement, social and collaborative enterprise, and concepts of health and wellbeing within the Blackfoot knowledge system. Working with other community artists, she will curate an installation to accompany the Inni Rematriation exhibit and chair the local committee to host the first Gathering at the 10th Anniversary of the Buffalo Treaty.

Lisa Te Heuheu

Lisa te Heuheu is Māori with expertise in environment and sustainable development, Iwi planning, policy, research and governance, as well as Māori natural resource management. She is currently the Chief Executive of Te Ohu Kaimoana (advancing Māori interests in the marine environment, including customary fisheries) and formerly the Chair of Te Wai Māori Trust (protecting habitat to ensure healthy Māori relationships to freshwater fisheries).

Tatiana Degai

Tatiana Degai is an Itelmen scholar from Kamchatka peninsula; her research focuses on Indigenous knowledge systems, revitalization and stabilization of Indigenous languages, and Indigenous visions on sustainability and wellbeing in the Arctic.

Ḥapinyuuk, Tommy Happynook

Ḥapinyuuk, Tommy Happynook is a Nuu-chah-nulth scholar whose research focuses on reconnecting, revitalizing, and restoring reciprocal relationships in his Nation’s traditional territory.

Dawn Smith

Dawn Smith is a Nuuchah-nulth scholar in Indigenous Governance and former Elected Chief for Ehatteshat First Nation. Her expertise in public sector management, educational leadership, and policy has shaped her research focus on Nuu-chah-nulth self-determination, decolonization, strict laws of nature and medicines, and futurities.

Nicole Redvers

Nicole Redvers is a member of the Deninu K’ue First Nation, holds a Research Chair at Western University, and is the Director of Indigenous Planetary Health. A global leader in this field, she has published extensively, and convened the first global group on the determinants of Indigenous Planetary Health.

Mary Tuti Baker

Mary Tuti Baker is a Kanaka Maoli scholar whose research focuses on anarchist, land-based governance structures in Hawaiʻi.

IAC Chair

Simon Brascoupé

Simon Brascoupé (IAC Chair) is Bear Clan and a Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg artist and academic. Among his many leadership roles, he has served as Chair of the IIPH Advisory Board and former director of the National Aboriginal Health Organization; he also brings expertise in Indigenous KT.

Jeff Ganohalidoh Corntassel

Dr. Jeff Ganohalidoh Corntassel is a writer, teacher and father from the Cherokee Nation and a member of the Echota ceremonial grounds in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Jeff is an Indigenous Studies Professor and his research and teaching interests focus on sustainable self-determination, “Everyday Acts of Resurgence” and the intersections between Indigenous-led resurgence, climate change, gender, and community well-being. He is currently completing work for his forthcoming book on Sustainable Self-Determination, which examines Indigenous climate justice, food security, and gender-based resurgence.

Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua

Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua is a Kanaka ‘Ōiwi academic and Trustee of the Kamehameha Schools committed to aloha ʻāina. Her research, teaching, and activism focus on Hawaiian social movements and Indigenous resurgence.

Dan Hikuroa

Dan Hikuroa is a Māori Associate Professor, Te Wānanga o Waipapa, Māori Studies (U.Auckland), with expertise in the areas of Mātauranga Māori, climate change, natural hazards, and rivers. Dan uses Kaupapa Māori methods in his work with Māori communities.

Heather Igloliorte

Heather Igloliorte is an Inuk from Nunatsiavut who holds the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Transformational and Decolonial Indigenous Art Practices at UVic; her research centres on Indigenous resurgence, community collaboration, and decolonizing institutional practices across the arts.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo

Melina Laboucan-Massimo is Lubicon Cree and the Co-Founder of Indigenous Climate Action. She hosts a docu-series, “Power to the People,” which profiles renewable energy in Indigenous communities.

Kelsey Leonard

Dr. Kelsey Leonard holds a Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Waters, Climate and Sustainability and is an Assistant Professor in the School of Environment, Resources, and Sustainability in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo, where her research focuses on Indigenous water justice and its climatic, territorial, and governance underpinnings. As a water scientist and legal scholar, Dr. Leonard seeks to establish Indigenous traditions of water conservation as the foundation for international water policymaking. She represents the Shinnecock Indian Nation on the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Planning Committee, which is charged with protecting America’s ocean ecosystems and coastlines. She also serves as a member of the Great Lakes Water Quality Board of the International Joint Commission. She is an enrolled citizen of Shinnecock Indian Nation.

Helen Moewaka- Barnes

Helen Moewaka-Barnes is Māori of Te Kapotai and Ngapuhi-nui-tonu descent and the Director of Whāriki and Codirector of the SHORE and Whariki Research Centre (NZ). She has worked on research concerning relationships between healthy lands and healthy peoples.

Melissa Nelson

Melissa K. Nelson is a Turtle Mountain Anishinaabe ecologist and professor of Indigenous Sustainability at Arizona State University. She is an award-winning scholar activist dedicated to Indigenous rights and sustainability, environmental justice, intercultural solidarity, and the renewal of community health and cultural arts.