Local Initiative Journalism Reporter
Alexi Buffalo was born to ride and participate in rodeo events.
But the 20-year-old from Samson Cree Nation in Alberta is not sure when she’ll be able to compete again.
That’s because the pandemic has put Buffalo’s life in limbo.
Ideally, Buffalo, a barrel racer, would be participating in various rodeos throughout Canada and the United States this summer. But due to COVID-19 concerns and restrictions, those events have all been cancelled.
Barrel racing is a rodeo event which sees a rider on a horse navigating a course of barrels to determine who can complete it in the fastest time.
Buffalo is also waiting to find out whether she will be returning to school for her third year of studies at the University of Providence in Montana. She’s on an athletic scholarship at the Montana school and represents the university in various rodeo competitions.
Buffalo is awaiting word whether her university will have in-person or online classes starting in August.
If only online classes are offered, then it’s unlikely there will be any National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association events for her university squad to enter.
“I have no clue what’s going on,” Buffalo said. “It’s all up in the air right now. I’m planning to be back in school. We’ll find out next week hopefully.”
Buffalo originally felt her school would indeed be fully open for its fall semester. But a recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the state of Montana has state officials worrying about whether to impose restrictions and start shutting down things again.
Buffalo said if her university only offers online classes and does not have a rodeo team she will not return to school at this point.
“It’s kind of wishy-washy right now,” she said. “We haven’t really seen how classes are going to be set up.”
Buffalo is working toward a Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Sciences with a minor in Sports Management.
It seems only natural that Buffalo became a rodeo participant.
Her father Benjamin is a former professional bull rider. Though he’s no longer active in that discipline, he still competes in some team roping events.
And Buffalo’s mother Debbie was a senior pro rodeo participant up until about 10 years ago.
“I started riding when I was three,” Buffalo said. “And then when I was about eight I took it a bit more seriously and took part in some show jumping events. It gave me a better understanding of riding.”
Buffalo then started competing in rodeo events around the age of 10.
In her teens she started thinking of furthering her education at an American university since they offered rodeo scholarships and opportunities to compete in various intercollegiate events.
“I knew right away I wanted to go to school down in the U.S. and rodeo down there,” she said.
Buffalo chose the University of Providence, a small private university, primarily because three-quarters of her schooling expenses would be covered.
After spending one year at the Montana university, Buffalo transferred to Washington State University last August. She was keen to see what life would be like at a bigger university.
Her plan was to concentrate on her studies since Washington State did not have a rodeo squad.
But after one semester, she transferred back to the University of Providence.
“I found out I did better school-wise and rodeo-wise if I went to a school with a team,” she said.
During her rodeo career Buffalo has participated at competitions in about a dozen states. Besides Alberta, Buffalo, who lives in Maskwacis, Alta., has also participated at events in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
Upon completing her university degree, Buffalo is keen to join the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association.
“That’s been my dream since I was a kid and what I plan to do,” she said.
Buffalo also prides herself on the fact she is continuing her education.
“I’m getting my degree,” she said. “I want to be a sports psychologist. I’d love to work with other athletes and I’m glad I’m going to have something to fall back on.”
Buffalo is also thrilled with the sport that she chooses to compete in.
“Rodeo is not just about competing,” she said. “I love the whole aspect it provides. It’s a huge part of our culture. Through rodeo I’ve met some of the best friends that I have. And it’s allowed me to go to school.”
Buffalo has also become a brand ambassador for First Nations Athletics, a company that promotes Indigenous athletes and sells Indigenous themed apparel.
Buffalo has also been working with the company assisting with its social media posts this summer.