Virtual buffalo will walk side-by-side with Regina park visitors, thanks to new app

Virtual buffalo will soon be roaming Regina's Māmowimīwēyitamōwin Park.

A new app called Buffalo Futurism uses augmented reality to take people on a virtual tour, telling stories about the buffalo that once roamed Saskatchewan's prairies.

The site of its launch on June 18 is the recently renamed Māmowimīwēyitamōwin Park, on land that used to be the Regent Par 3 golf course and Regent Pool Park, just west of Regent Pool. Māmowimīwēyitamōwin (pronounced ma-mo-we-me-way-ee-ta-mo-win) is Cree for a gathering of joy and happiness.

"I was envisioning and wishing for this buffalo energy within the city," said Joely BigEagle-Kehquahtooway, a co-founder of the Buffalo People Arts Institute and someone who inspired the project.

Back in 2022, BigEagle-Kehquahtooway and her husband placed 17 boulders at the park to create a buffalo effigy, part of her work to raise social consciousness and awareness of Indigenous people's connection to the buffalo.

Evie Johnny Ruddy, the program coordinator for the Buffalo Futurism app, said they heard BigEagle-Kehquahtooway talk about her visions of buffalo returning to the land and felt inspired by the concept.

"She envisioned this larger-than-life spirit in the park. And as I was listening to her speak, I was thinking, 'Oh, we could do this with augmented reality,'" said Ruddy.

Ruddy approached BigEagle-Kehquahtooway with the idea of making an app with her vision. In 2023, BigEagle-Kehquahtooway nd the Buffalo People Arts Institute teamed up with Ruddy and Common Weal Community Arts to work on the collaborative project.

BigEagle-Kehquahtooway recorded audio stories about the buffalo, with the digital team then creating artwork that would bring those stories to life.

"Some people don't know, but Pokemon Go, a lot of people are familiar with Pokemon Go. That is augmented reality — so it will look like the buffalo are right in the park with you," said Ruddy.

The Buffalo Futurism app will give people an immersive experience with augmented reality.
The Buffalo Futurism app will give people an immersive experience with augmented reality. (Submitted by Evie Johnny Ruddy )

The City of Regina is updating a sign at the park to add a QR code that visitors can use to access the alternate world of buffalo, while listening to BigEagle-Kehquahtooway offering narration.

BigEagle-Kehquahtooway said the app was a good way to combine traditional storytelling with a more modern approach, using a virtual lens.

"It's a good way to bridge … the old ways of storytelling to relate to youth today," said BigEagle-Kehquahtooway.

When BigEagle-Kehquahtooway and her husband started working on the buffalo effigy, she said they did it with the intention of creating a sanctuary for urban Indigenous people to have a space within city limits, where they could feel safe.

A playground has helped to revitalize the golf course that used to occupy that space. Now, what was once a quiet place is full of kids' laughter — and soon, buffalo will be honoured there.

"It's rewarding to see it finally launch," she said of the app. "You can enjoy the park … and you can also enjoy this futuristic aspect of buffalo … coming through the app."