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Banff’s ‘Nightrise’ Puts the Stoney Nakoda Culture in the Spotlight

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During “Nightrise”, the beliefs of the Stoney Nakoda Nation, including the view of the heavens, is the focus of the multimedia narrative. (Photo courtesy of Moment Factory)

Kirsten Ryder saw the language of her Indigenous people written in a manner she never expected — in an entertainment production for the masses — and it compelled her to tear up.

Some of the words used in “Nightrise”, a multimedia art installation atop Banff’s snowy Sulphur Mountain, are from the Stoney Nakoda Nation, Ryder’s community. “Nightrise” is a production of the Pursuit Collection, a non-Indigenous tour operator that owns numerous attractions, hotels, and restaurants in Banff and Jasper national parks. Pursuit partnered with the Stoney Nakoda and Montreal’s award-winning multimedia artistic company, Moment Factory, to launch “Nightrise” on December 1.

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Kirsten Ryder of the Stoney Nakoda Nation was moved to have her culture featured in “Nightrise”. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

With sensitivities high around Indigenous communities and how they are represented in media, trust among partners needed to be built from the outset of the project. Ryder, the Stoney Nakoda Nation training and development director, had assurances from Pursuit and Moment Factory early on.

“We felt they have good intentions,” Ryder says of the non-Indigenous partners involved with “Nightrise”. “First of all, to just be approached to be part of something in Banff is significant for us and then to know that it attracts tourists from all over the world, it’s huge. Having our culture involved like that is very important.”

She calls initiatives like “Nightrise” a “step forward for reconciliation”. In her language, Banff — which is named after a Scottish village — is called Mini rhpa, or “waterfall”. You can hear a member of the Stoney Nakoda community explaining the significance of the Alberta mountains during a recorded introduction to “Nightrise” that happens on the five-minute gondola ride to the top of the mountain. From there, Moment Factory does its thing with creative flair.

Gentler and more subtle than other Moment Factory productions, “Nightrise” aims to stay true to the Stoney Nakoda connection to the land and the sky. Fire, the stars, and the sun and moon are key elements of the narrative.

“With any project we do, we are inspired by the beauty of the sites we are working with,” says Moment Factory creative director Marie-Hélène Delage. “We aim to tailor the experience into that creative process. We asked the Stoney Nakoda what were they hoping to get out of the project, how were they going to see this experience. And they wanted it to raise awareness about their culture, and especially that everyone understands that these are sacred mountains.”

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“Nightrise” includes exterior art installations that feature motion sensors amid Banff’s wintry wonderland. (Photo courtesy of Moment Factory)

That sense of solemnity shines through. The parts of the experience that take place indoors at the Sulphur Mountain summit are designed for visitors to linger and reflect as the light-and-sound shows play. The exterior displays include motion sensors that track your path as you move across virtual fire and real flames to keep you warm over firepits.

Simon Garant, Moment Factory’s multimedia director, notes that it was easy for his team of francophone Quebeckers to relate to the Stoney Nakoda’s desire to have language and culture entwined in the experience.

“When Kirsten told us that this was the first time she had seen her language used in this way — alongside English and French and Japanese and other languages that accommodate tourists here — that for me was really touching,” Garant says. “It means that the connection we want people to have with her people is there.”

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With “Nightrise”, the summit of the Banff Gondola will be active in winter throughout the day. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

It’s not the first time Moment Factory has worked in Banff or with Indigenous groups. But “Nightrise” feels particularly poignant because of the anguish Canadians feel over the grim discoveries found in the vicinity of former residential schools during the past year and rising acknowledgement that more needs to be done to help Indigenous communities heal. For several years, Pursuit (formerly Brewster Travel) has worked with First Nations in Alberta to have their stories told as part of tour experiences. “Nightrise” is an extension of that program, Pursuit’s vice-president of operations, Stuart Back, points out.

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“We have a long-standing relationship with the Stoney and other Indigenous groups, and our work with them has led us to be lucky enough to be gifted stories from their culture that we can retell to our customers. Now, with this attraction, we can use multimedia to engage new audiences,” Back says. “We know that the Stoney want their language and stories to be shared and saved. There was a point in time in Canadian history where Indigenous people were excluded and that’s not forgotten. So rebuilding that trust, broadly, takes time. From our company’s perspective, we want to tell a complete picture. That element requires the Stoney to relate their culture and their history.”

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A guest at “Nightrise” takes in the multimedia spectacle atop Sulphur Mountain in Banff. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Back points to an increase in interest, both domestically and internationally, in Indigenous tourism as an impetus to continue to build on Pursuit’s programming. Growth in interest is one reason why Banff will once again be represented on the Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Travel in Canada ranking. The 2022 edition will be focused on Indigenous tourism and will be published in January.

Ryder notes that her community and other Indigenous groups in Canada are feeling emboldened, too, to have greater control of the tourism industry that is linked to them.

“We see Indigenous tourism as an opportunity and it’s a growing industry that we want to keep participating in. We’re moving away from words like ‘exploitation’ and ‘appropriation’, and we’re getting more involved in the tourism business,” she says. “What we’re doing is building connections in our way, with something that is real and authentic. For us, it’s meaningful.”

MORE ABOUT ‘NIGHTRISE’

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Banff Avenue and its iconic view of Cascade Mountain is an enduring beacon for global travellers. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Location: 100 Mountain Ave, Banff, AB (see map below)
Website: www.banffjaspercollection.com/attractions/banff-gondola/events/nightrise/
Dates: Daily until March 12, 2022
Cost: Rates for the “Nightrise” experience start at $56 per adult and can vary depending on day and time. Visit the booking site to search for your preferred dates.
Where to Stay: Pursuit operates the Mount Royal Hotel on Banff Avenue. Dating to 1908, it’s a historic landmark with five storeys and comfortable beds. The three-star quality accommodations includes a hot tub among other amenities.
Where to Dine: Pursuit’s Farm and Fire features wood-fired pizzas and a range of crowd-pleasing dishes with locally sourced ingredients. Be sure to have a coffee and bakery treat at The Uprising, a fantastic operation with options created by its European-born and -trained pastry chef. Check here for more Banff Dining Tips by Vacay.ca.

Note: Pursuit Collection supported Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi’s flight and travel costs. No one from Pursuit, the Stoney Nakoda Nation, or Moment Factory reviewed the article before it was published.

Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.