A painted animal hide depicting a detailed sunburst pattern at its center, flanked by various figures, symbols, and animals in blue and red hues. The hide has irregular edges and small holes, showcasing traditional art against a light wooden background.

Tatanka Iyotake (Sitting Bull), "Buffalo Robe," circa 1877-1881. Pigment on American bison hide. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, 10117.

About the Artwork

This artwork is a hide painting created by Chief Sitting Bull. Not only is it a beautiful piece of art, it’s also a tool for recording history and telling important stories. It is meant to be viewed from above, with people gathered around it. 

The MacKenzie Art Gallery is very thankful to Elder Wayne Goodwill for sharing his knowledge with us about this artwork. In a video that can be seen in the gallery or online, Elder Wayne Goodwill shares lots of information about the pictures on the hide painting, the stories they tell, and the history of his Lakota family. You can see the video belowElder Wayne is also an artist and makes his own hide paintings 

Interpreting Sitting Bull's Robe with Elder Wayne Goodwill

About the Artist

Chief Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotake) was born in 1831 in what is now South Dakota (USA)Sitting Bull was an important leader of the Hunkpapa Lakota in many wayshe was a spiritual and cultural leader, a political leader, and a leader of warriors. 

Sitting Bull is well known for leading the Lakota and Cheyenne peoples to victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn. This battle was part of a bigger conflict. The United States was trying to take away Indigenous lands to make space for European settlers and to gain access to natural resources like the gold found in the Black Hills. 

The United States army began working even harder to get rid of Sitting Bull and his people, sthey fled to Canada to what is now Alberta and Saskatchewan. They were met with difficult times there too. The Canadian government and new settlers were destroying Indigenous food sources. The Lakota peoples did find some help from the Métis and Francophone communities, as well as some Indigenous communities in Canada. StillSitting Bull and many of the Lakota people returned to the United States to avoid starving. 

Sitting Bull moved to Standing Rock Reservation, and then later travelled as part of Buffalo Bill’s show. He kept speaking out against the US government taking land away from the Lakota peoples. He was killed in 1890 by police officers sent by the Indian Service Agent to arrest him. 

Many relatives of Sitting Bull and those who travelled with him continue to live here in Saskatchewan. We offer our deepest respect to them and their ancestors—past and future—for allowing us to share their histories. 

Things to Think About

  • Listen to the video of Elder Wayne Goodwill talking about Sitting Bull’s Robe. What did you learn from him? 
  • How many different ways can you think of to tell a story? 
  • Can you think of any other functional artworks? These are forms of art that also serve a purpose in our lives. They are often touched, worn, or used regularly in some way. 
  • How did colonialism (when one group of people try to take over another land or other group of people) affect Sitting Bull’s life? 

Post your artwork online using the hashtag #studiosundayyqr!

Studio Activity

Sitting Bull’s robe tells parts of his life story, and the story of the Lakota peoples. Create a bracelet with beads and string to help you remember an important story.


What you Need:

  • String or cord for bracelet 
  • A mix of different beads 
  • Paper
  • Pencil and eraser 
  • Masking tape 
  • Scissors 
  • Optional – yarn needles to help with beading 

What you Do:

  1. Think of a story that has happened to you that you would like to remember and be able to retell to others for a long time. On a piece of paper, make a quick list of each important thing that happens in your story. These don’t need to be detailed notes. If you can’t write them out yourself, use pictures or ask an adult to help make these notes.
  2. Look at the beads you have available, and pick one to go with each event of your story.  Try to pick a bead whose colour, shape, or texture reminds you of that part of your story in some way. For example, if you were telling a story where you were hiking and found some wild roses, you might pick a bead that was the same shade of pink as the roses, or that was flower-shaped. 
  3. Cut a long piece of string, and fold it in half. Tie a knot just below where it’s folded in half, so that you leave a loop on the end for tying the bracelet later. Tape this loop down to the table to make it easier to add beads. 
  4. Add your beads to your bracelet in the same order as the events of your story. There are many ways you could go about this.
    Easy version: Put all of your beads on the string one after another.  Tie a knot at the end so the beads don’t come off.  Cut the tails of the string so that they are just long enough to tie your bracelet on your wrist.
    Harder Version: Between each bead, tie an overhand knot with both strings included (see picture).
    Advanced Version: Start with two strings folded in half to make four working strings. Tie square knots (see pictures) in between each bead, and along the length of your bracelet to make it more decorative. If you are making this type of bracelet, be sure to give yourself lots of string to work with.
    Creative Version: Come up with your own way of adding knots and beads to your bracelet!
    If you are having trouble getting the beads on the string, use a yarn needle, or wrap the ends of your string in masking tape. 
  5. Practice telling your story to someone using your bracelet to remind you of the events.