John Nieto American Indian

The Symbolism of Buffalo in Native American Culture

Contemporary Native American Art

American Indian artist John Nieto portrays strong cultural practices of traditional Native American tribes. His fauvism-inspired art pieces draw upon strong historical themes that represent the lifestyle and cultural norms of various Native Americans. The buffalo is often depicted within his paintings because it played a key role in American Indian lifestyles. Especially in Plains Indian tribes, buffalo were an important part of the lifestyle, folklore and spiritual practices.

Traditionally, Buffalo was a large food source for Native American tribes and something they relied upon to thrive. Buffalo were also difficult to hunt prior to the days of horses and guns, and required much skill on the side of the hunter. Rituals such as prayers, and dances were often performed by tribes to represent the difficult yet dangerous task of buffalo hunting.

Common myths dictated that buffaloes sacrificed themselves willingly as a food source for humans. Buffalo, therefore held a special place of honor and respect within the culture. Other myths attribute knowledge and wisdom to the buffalo. Buffalo spirits were believed to bring sacred knowledge about medicine and peace pipes to humankind. Legends within Southern Plains say that buffalos were sent on the earth to help feed people . Other cautionary tales forewarn of the fate awaiting those who do not respect the buffalo, which often results in a hunter’s death or demise.

For various tribes, the Buffalo held a strong place within the spiritual world. Their hides and horns were used as religious artifacts and spiritual regalia. Often representing honor and generosity, all parts of the buffalo were treated with respect. Other tribes did not give Buffalo as much prominence, but still associated them with strength, endurance and protection. As Nieto paints contemporary wildlife art, he displays the prominence buffalo had within the Native American culture. Pictures such as Embattled Buffalo, Buffalo Dancer IV, Standing Buffalo Bull clearly display the presence Buffalo played in both common daily tasks and ritualistic events.

Native American Artist

Nieto’s work continues to give voice and dignity to Native American tribes through his culturally inspired paintings. To view current paintings of his American Indian art, visit his online gallery here:

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