Alberta is home to 43 First Nations in three treaty areas – their cultures are distinct and diverse. Travellers can explore 10,000 years of First Nations life at ancient sites and museums around the province; paddle the same waterways of original Métis fur trappers; discover ancient petroglyphs and rock art, learn to make hand drums or sleep in a teepee next to North America’s best-preserved buffalo jump.
A perfect place to start a journey into Alberta’s rich aboriginal culture: two recently opened, Aboriginal-operated sites, each within an easy drive of one of the province’s major gateways.
Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park
Located just 100 kilometres east of Calgary, the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park officially opened its doors to the public on July 19, 2007. It is the largest First Nations-owned and operated interpretive centre in Canada.
The park introduces First Nations history, spirituality and culture to visitors from around the globe. Unique for its scope and vision, the facility opens the door to the sacred and fascinating traditions of the Blackfoot people in this educational complex.
A traditional meeting place of the Blackfoot people for thousands of years, Blackfoot Crossing was also the site of the signing of the 1877 Treaty – also known as Treaty 7 – between the Blackfoot confederacy made up of the Siksika, Peigan, Blood, Tsuu T’ina and Stoney peoples and the Canadian and British governments.
The $25 million historical park is unique for many reasons. The park has been developed to share Blackfoot traditions, history and culture, offering an intimate glimpse of the Blackfoot people that cannot be found anywhere else.
The heart of the historical park is its 5,760-square-metre Interpretive Centre, which includes a $3 million exhibit on Blackfoot history and tradition. Pictures, artifacts and displays showcase thousands of years of Blackfoot culture.
The park also offers on-site tipi camping, perfect for anyone who wants to add an exotic element to their Alberta vacation. Visitors can experience the culture first-hand as they stay overnight in a traditional aboriginal tipi on a site where First Nations people have lived for thousands of years.
The tipi village also includes a restaurant, where visitors have a chance to sample traditional Blackfoot foods like bannock (fried bread), berry soup and mint tea.
The historical park features a performance centre where visitors can view traditional and contemporary dances and presentations. The talents of many Aboriginal artisans from across Canada are on display in the on-site retail centre, where visitors can browse and purchase sculpture, art, jewelry, and crafts as keepsakes from their vacation.
The site of the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park has a sacred and significant history. It’s the burial site of one of the signers of the 1877 treaty, Chief Crowfoot. It also includes an ancient Mandan Earth Lodge, believed to have been built in the 1700s, which was the home of some of the area’s earliest residents.
Situated on the largest riparian ecosystem left anywhere in the world, the Park offers eco-tours for those interested in learning more about the unique topography during their vacation.
Canada’s Métis citizens – the mixed-blood offspring of European pioneers and the region’s First Nations inhabitants – were until recently considered the nation’s “forgotten people”. The official opening of Métis Crossing on the Victoria District National Historic Site, near Smoky Lake heralded a long-overdue acknowledgement of the culture, history, language and accomplishments of this unique Aboriginal group.
The festivities at Métis Crossing reflect the richness of Métis history in Alberta. This interactive cultural and interpretive site is situated at an historic North Saskatchewan River crossing near the town of Smoky Lake. The facility is about an hour and a half east of Edmonton.
The first of its kind in Canada, Métis Crossing is situated on 207 hectares where traders and First Nations gathered for centuries to trade and ply their wares. There are many interpretive activities designed to inform and entertain. Munch on bannock, the traditional unleavened bread, learn how to weave a colorful sash, watch animal hides being tanned, check out the technical skills required to erect a trapper’s tent or learn about the history and culture on self-guided or guided tours.
These are just two of Alberta’s wide variety of Aboriginal experiences and attractions. Other Alberta sites rich with First Nations history and culture include:
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump: This UNESCO World Heritage Site 18 kilometres northwest of Fort McLeod in southern Alberta is the site of the world’s oldest, largest and best preserved buffalo jump.
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park: Sacred to the Blackfoot people, this landscape 32 kilometres east of Milk River is home to the largest collection of aboriginal rock art on the North American pains.
Elk Island Retreat: Just one hour from Edmonton, this is a campground, tipi camp and cultural centre. The centre offers a range of activities supported by local Aboriginal elders and cultural experts, including tipi stays, spiritual talking circles and some purifying sweat lodge ceremonies.
For more information about Alberta, visit www.travelalberta.com/trade.
For more information about Aboriginal tourism in Alberta, visit www.albertaaboriginaltourism.com.