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  • Writer's pictureShawnee Real Bird

Carrying Dreams Into Reality

Updated: May 6

A woman in a cowboy hat, has an elk robe with a painting on her back.
Miah Chalfant (Yellow Hair Woman), Northern Cheyenne, models her latest creation painted on an elk robe. Photo credit: Shawnee Real Bird

In the presence of their buffalo robe, a Northern Cheyenne Warrior Society painted a piece of life they wished to never forget–an aid to an oral history that would outlive them. Berries, dirt, and buffalo grease mixed became paint that moved across the buffalo robe.

This was the Society’s chance to tell their version of the Dull Knife Battle that occurred in 1876. Framed by the traditional canvas their people used for centuries before, they transferred images from memory to the physical world through paints. Without any knowledge of the journey their creation would make beyond themselves, the piece was completed for their people.

During the Winter of 2022, the Northern Cheyenne Warrior Society’s Buffalo robe was returned to their Northern Cheyenne People–a soldier with the U.S. Calvary took the piece of history as a token from the tribe. Miah Chalfant, known as Yellow Hair Woman to her Cheyenne people, participated in the homecoming ceremony of the painted hide. Many generations waited for the robe to be returned so they could sit in the audience of its story. In the presence of the robe, Yellow Hair Woman was struck with a dream. As a contemporary Indigenous artist, she longed to understand the process of storytelling on a traditional canvas, such as an animal hide.

Using modern tools and ancestral techniques, Yellow Hair Woman painted her dreams into reality during the spring of 2024. After obtaining an elk robe to practice on, she chooses an image of a Cheyenne woman warrior. With the elk hide stretched before her–she carefully selects an earth pigment that will bring color to the design she imagines. With ancestors in mind, her connection to the subject of the piece deepens. In her mind's eye, she can see a Cheyenne woman warrior rendered in black and white. A bright pop-style halo emanating a glow behind her. The robe represents how a modern Native girl, like Yellow Hair Woman, feels looking at her ancestors.

Today, the hide is complete. Near the sight of the battle depicted on the Northern Cheyenne Warrior Society’s robe, Yellow Hair Woman calls back her experience. In the presence of the Big Horn Mountains, she speaks about painting the traditional canvas. “I wanted to honor the hide by using natural pigments. I found earth paints were the closest medium and without any previous experience, I had to expand my skills. This helped me feel a connection to those who painted before me. The rawness between the materials and my idea, the dream I had of the hides.” Standing with the painted elk robe draped over her shoulders, Yellow Hair Woman stares at the mountains. This experience has changed her viewpoint of being an artist and the work she is putting out into the world. 

A woman displays a painting on an elk robe with mountains in the background.
Miah brings context to her painting by presenting it with the Big Horn Mountains in the background. Photo credit: Shawnee Real Bird

“When I am working on these hides they feel like a window to the ancestors and their stories.”

Yellow Hair Woman is currently working on her next project consisting of four buffalo robes depicting Matriarchs of the Northern Plains.


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