Last winter I had the chance to explore Alberta via the ATTA’s Elevate event in partnership with Travel Alberta. We began from an Indigenous Culture perspective – before also visiting Banff and Lake Louise – and it was one of the best travel experiences I have ever had. It’s one I highly recommend now to all who are interested in visiting Alberta, Canada.
This post is not sponsored but the experiences I write about were hosted. All opinions, as always, are my own.
We met in Calgary and stayed initially at Grey Eagle. I don’t recommend it as a gambling destination because I don’t support gambling. It is an Indigenous-owned property on Indigenous lands and I was pleased to stay there for that reason. The profits stay in the Tsuut’ina Nation and it is the Tsuut’ina Nation that runs the hotel.
Learning about Indigenous Culture at Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump
From Calgary, we drove to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump where we learned from Quinton Crow Shoe of the Northern Piikani. When we were meeting with him, I thought about an article I had read several days before. It was about a female Chef who practices whole animal butchering in her restaurant. Meaning she butchers the meat she cooks herself and she doesn’t waste any of the animal. It’s commendable! But as I had heard before and as it was re-affirmed by Quinton, it is not a new or revolutionary idea.
A respect for the entirety of what an animal can provide to human beings – and not just a part – is what First Nation or Indigenous peoples were doing for thousands of years before settlers arrived to the continent of North America. They believed bison were provided to them to meet their needs and in turn they viewed the killing of bison as a sacred act to be done with proper gratefulness, respect and ceremony. There was no waste. Every part of the animal was used and it happened on the land in this photo, at what is now known as Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump. HSIBJ is protected by Unesco and staffed by Piikani and Blackfoot.
Quinton’s grandfather Joe Crow Shoe Sr. was instrumental in making HSIBJ possible. He helped to ensure its history and heritage are accurate. Listening to Quinton’s stories, passed down from Joe and his other ancestors, was a surprisingly profound experience. I realized how little I knew about Indigenous people and a bright spark of curiosity was lit within me. I was excited to stoke that further as we traveled through the province with Dené Sinclair [Ojibwe-Anishinaabe] who represented the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada during the trip.
Experiencing Indigenous Culture with Painted Warriors
We had the most phenomenal day with Tracey, Tim and Morgan of Painted Warriors outside Calgary in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. They are an Indigenous business just starting out in tourism with so much to offer and so many incredible ideas for how to share their Cree heritage.
We learned archery, talked about the importance of survival skills and discussed some of the very basic things you need to know when you are outdoors. We learned about animals that are native to Alberta and we made a Vegan lunch together. Their hope for the future is to include foraging, glamping in a clearing surrounded by ancient trees and many more experiences that reinforce being close to the land. Not just that but also being respectful of the animals we share the planet with. And ultimately they’d like to help all those who visit with them to thrive, not just survive.
Before opening their business for tourism, they consulted for the television and film industries to help train people in survival skills as well to enable people to be historically accurate in portraying the past. I really loved meeting them and enjoyed all the activities we did.
Understanding Indigenous Culture and History in the Rockies with Mahikan Trails
After our time in Calgary we made our way up into the Canadian Rockies. There we did an ice walk with Jordan Ede of Mahikan Trails. They offer walking and snowshoe tours from the perspective of their Indigenous Culture. From bushcraft to plant medicine, tanning hides and making moccasins, they provide the opportunity for visitors to learn time honored skills which are part of their Indigenous traditions.
Jordan taught us all about the plants that we passed. He pointed out pictographs that are 4,000 years old on the walls of the Canyon. It was awe inspiring to see and learn about evidence of people living here that long ago. Now the walk itself might not be for the faint of heart in winter because it does require crampons. You’re walking on top of what is a deep, raging river at other times of the year. When we visited, it was an uneven yet stunning expanse of solid ice, the color of which changed with the light. Jordan provided the equipment we needed and he made sure we were safe. I never felt uneasy and it was so much fun.
We began in a forest and eventually ended up at the wide entrance to the Canyon, guarded by soaring peaks. The “end” is at a few frozen waterfalls in a sort of glen. The spot seemed so unspoiled and wild in a way and yet the pictographs Jordan showed us prove that Indigenous people have been visiting the same spots we did for at least 4,000 years. You can learn more at their site.
Art as a way of Experiencing Indigenous Culture
While in Banff, we spent an afternoon with Jason Carter [Cree Nation] and Bridget Ryan at the Carter-Ryan Gallery. Jason explained his heritage and how he honors that as an artist. Then Jason taught us how to sculpt soapstone into a modern version of a traditional piece of art depicting the iconic mountain ranges of the Banff area.
Even though I grew up as the daughter of an artist and I’ve experienced almost all mediums, I was challenged as well as entertained by this. I don’t need any more reminders of Canada in order to keep my love for the country with me always. But I do still love seeing the sculpture that I made that day. It always brings a smile to my face.
You too can book the experience we had at the gallery in Banff when you visit the area. Learn more on their website.
And at ATTA Elevate…
we were able to meet Dallas Arcand [Alexander (Kipohtakaw) Plains Cree Nation] aka ‘Dancing Buffalo Man.’ He has an incredible talent for music and dance and it was such an honor to see him perform live. I actually started crying when he was almost done. It was so beautiful. If you’re in Alberta, and have the chance to see him, do it!
Visit Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary to understand and visit with wolf dogs; which have a long history in Canada with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Particularly in terms of dog-sledding and outdoor survival. However, because of shows like Game of Thrones they are now a breed that is as widely misunderstood as they are widely loved. The folks at the Sanctuary do an amazing job fostering education and understanding while also still encouraging the love of these beautiful dogs.
Did I miss anything? What would you add? What experiences did you learn about via this post that you’re hearing about for the first time?
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