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Now That the Buffalo's Gone
by Laurie Ornstein


In January I began working as an EFL counselor in the Bedouin Sector in the Negev. After visiting the many schools in the Southern District, I chose to focus my work in five: Hura Atid School, Kseifa Atid School, El-Razi School in Rahat, ORT Abu Krinat School and ORT El-Hoashallah School.

There stands a lot to be done in order to raise the level of English in the Bedouin Sector, which in many respects has been neglected till recently. I'm thankful for the challenge and am doing the best I can to help. I've met some lovely and motivated teachers and also many interesting pupils.

I'll share here a recent experience at Hura Atid School. Hura is one of 7 recognized Bedouin towns and is located near Shoket Junction. Pupils from Hura and nearby unrecognized villages attend the school.

On this particular Tuesday I'd been asked to prepare and give a sample lesson for all the school's English teachers to observe and I gladly accepted. We decided I would teach the 4-point 10th grade class I'd previously observed. The reason behind this decision was that the pupils and I had already met and they were comfortable with a "guest" in class. This was a 45 minute lesson.

A good textbook can go a long way but it's important to know how to break away from it and be creative. The curriculum allows us the freedom to choose literary texts appropriate to our classes and I decided to build my lesson around a protest song," Now That the Buffalo's Gone" by First Nation singer-songwriter and educator Buffy Sainte-Marie. Read more about her at www/creative-native.com

I began by showing the class a picture of the North American buffalo. I explained the importance and significance of the animal to the Native Americans and how it had become almost extinct. While not in danger of extinction, the pupils pointed out similarities in the traditional use of camels by Bedouins. We also looked together at some pictures of Native Americans in traditional dress dancing at a tribal ceremony. The pupils then mentioned their "debka" and local Bedouin traditions.

We next moved on to the lyrics, first scanning the song for "names". "Uncle Sam" required an explanation, as did the Kinzua Dam and the names of the tribes in the last verse. Second, different pupils volunteered to read the verses aloud; I listened and explained the new vocabulary on the board as we went along. Third, I asked them to think about the significance and symbolism in the song title as they listened to the song. In this case, I sang it to them but a recording would have worked well, too. We discussed the title's significance at the end of the lesson.

Some of the questions that we discussed were:
  • Who is the speaker in the song? What is her background? How do we know she is a Native American?
  • Who is addressed in each verse?
  • What event/s happened that led Buffy Sainte-Marie to write the song?
  • Why did the songwriter include the verse about Germany and World War II?
  • Relate to the saying, "History repeats itself." Which verse/s relate to this saying?
  • Can you, as Bedouins, identify with the issue at hand in the song? Explain.


"Now That the Buffalo's Gone", is also a poem set to music and we examined its different poetic elements such as verses in contrast to paragraphs in prose. We looked at rhyme, rhythm, repetition and symbolism. The almost extinct buffalo, seen now mainly in zoos, is very significant and explains the historical treatment of the Native Americans by the American government, "Uncle Sam". The treaties signed and broken and the struggle for land rights cannot be ignored.

Lastly, we discussed the concept of a "protest song", the power of words, as a non-violent means of protest. We all know how "We Shall Overcome" became the hymn of the American Civil Rights movement in the 1960's.

For homework, I asked the class to write an additional verse relating to their situation, a verse about themselves. I told them to consider their audience and try to include the same poetic elements Buffy Sainte-Marie used such as repetition. Of course, I left this and the follow-up to the class teacher. The pupils related well to the song and there was active class participation. The teachers, who observed the lesson, provided positive feedback as well.

Following are a quotation and the lyrics from "The Buffy Sainte-Marie Songbook" (Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York, 1971).

Now That the Buffalo's Gone

"We are of many tribes; we stay up all night and travel far to be together in times of trouble. We are never ashamed of our birth. We are often ashamed of our citizenship.
A couple of years ago, the government unilaterally broke the oldest treaty in Congressional archives, which George Washington, "the father of America," had drawn up with the Seneca Indians of New York State, granting recognition that the Seneca reservation belonged to the the Senecas now and forever more. But the treaty was broken by the government. Kinzua Dam was built on the reservation, although there were several alternative sites, and the Senecas were evicted." Buffy Sainte-Marie

Can you remember the times that you held your head high
And told all your friends of your Indian claim,
Proud good lady, and proud good man.
Your great, great grandfather from Indian blood sprang
And you feel in your heart for these ones.

Oh it's written in books and in songs
That we've been mistreated and wronged,
Well, over and over I hear the same words,
From you, good lady, and you good man,
Well listen to me if you care where we stand,
And you feel in your hearts for these ones.

When a war between nations is lost,
The loser we know pays the cost,
But even when Germany fell to your hands,
Consider, dear lady, consider, dear man,
You left them their pride and you left them their land,
And what have you done for these ones?

Has a change come about Uncle Sam
Or are you still taking our lands?
A treaty forever George Washington signed,
He did, dear lady, he did dear man,
And the treaty's been broken by Kinzua Dam,
And what will you do for these ones?

Oh it's all in the past you can say,
But it's still going on here today.
The government now wants the Iroquois land,
That of the Seneca and the Cheyenne.
It's here and it's now you must help us dear man
Now that the buffalo's gone.

The song is recorded on the following Buffy Sainte-Marie Vanguard albums:
"It's my Way!"
"I'm Gonna Be a Country Girl Again"
"The Best of Buffy Sainte-Marie"

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