Story by Jacquie D. Durand
Wanuskewin translates into “being at peace with oneself.” The park is Canada’s longest-running archaeological site, even older than Egypt’s pyramids. Covering an area of 240 hectares (about 600 acres), this sacred land that dates to 6,000-plus years was originally a meeting place for the Northern Plains Indians (Cree, Assiniboine, Saulteaux, Atsina, Dakota and Blackfoot) long before the province of Saskatchewan was created.
“This is the site of ceremony and cultural understanding,” says Andrew McDonald, sales and marketing manager at Wanuskewin. In striving to advance a cultural understanding of the Northern Plains indigenous peoples, Wanuskewin remains a living reminder of the sacred relationship native peoples have always had with the land.
History and Culture Converge in Saskatchewan
Feeling adventurous, I decided to experience a tipi sleepover. But first, I received instruction on how to correctly erect an authentic tipi. As the “centre of life,” the tipi is of vital importance to First Nations cultures and there is meaning in each pole used in its construction.
I woke up before dawn, hearing birds and other wildlife calling me to join them. This is when you get to see Mother Nature at her absolute best. She led me along trails as I enjoyed the sounds and smells of the earth. At one point, I was surprised by a doe and her fawn foraging for their breakfast. The doe and I simply stood and watched each other for a five minutes. Finally, the fawn, like so many children, became bored and loped away, forcing its mom to follow. It was such a special moment and one I feel I will never be able to experience anywhere else.
For my children, this park holds many wondrous things. There is a kids camp, held in August, where activities include trail walks and archaeology digs. Children will bake bannock (a flatbread that is a staple in the First Nations diet and which has Scottish roots), raise a tipi, gain understanding of the Northern Plains indigenous cultures and history, explore the Opimihaw Creek Valley, and much more. Children are also encouraged to learn about the traditional bison hunt and receive instruction on how to use the atlatl (spear-thrower) and the bow and arrow, as well as many traditional games to build their skills and encourage social development. McDonald added, “This is an opportunity for all people to understand the stories and sacred connection to the land. Wanuskewin is a place for the world to delve into the rich human history of the Great Plains.”
While visiting this totally captivating area, we ventured on an instructional medicine walk along some of the six kilometres of trails meandering through meadows, up hills and into valleys, while learning about the many natural medicines used by the people who have resided in the area for centuries. As we walked, elder Chris Strong provided stories of bison hunts and of life growing up as a Cree/Dakota child in the prairies.
Hearing the stories and learning about the natural medicines, sampling the traditional cuisine at the local restaurant and examining hand-crafted wares by local native artisans, I came to the realization that I couldn’t possibly soak up all this information in a single visit.
“All of this is done to offer our guests a full view of the rich and diverse Plains First Nations and Metis Culture,” McDonald says.
MORE ABOUT WANUSKEWIN HERITAGE PARK
Day Tripping: Approximately a 15-minute drive from downtown Saskatoon