Friday, August 16, 2013
Wanuskewin Heritage Park — A National Treasure
Ah, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The words roll around on the tongue. And the city is just as intriguing as it sounds. I stayed at the Bessborough, aka the Castle, and loved the grand architecture of a bygone era, complete with turrets, gargoyles and grotesques.
Even better was the glorious sunshine as I traveled a short five kilometers north to the Wanuskewin Heritage Park, where I climbed into a trench marked by a grid of string and red tape. No ordinary hole in the ground, this is part of Canada’s longest continuously operating archaeological dig. Ernie Walker, an internationally acclaimed archaeologist, waved a stained cowboy hat and said, “This is a research project gone wild. It’s a treasure trove of Native culture and history.” Over three decades the site has unearthed a wealth of Native history dating back 6,000 years — twice the age of King Tut’s tomb — including tipi rings, camp sites, two buffalo jumps, a medicine wheel and a buffalo rubbing stone. The archaeological work has revealed so much about Northern Plains people that it led to the creation of the park, complete with visitors center and interpretive trails. The Park was designated a national heritage site in 1986, and is currently undergoing major expansion“Can you imagine,” Walker enthused, “we’ll have live buffalo in an urban site.
Later, I watched Julian Kakum, a Plains Cree dressed in full regalia, perform several traditional dances. The bells on his regalia clinked, drums beat rhythmically and guttural singing sounded. He wore a full feathered head-dress, a bright yellow shield with red bear-paw prints and carried a stick topped with eagles talons. Later, I spoke with Kakum and learened that the park, which is considered sacred ground, has become an important focal point for regional Natives. Pow wows, horse ceremonies, sweat ceremonies, a Cree wedding and art festivals are held here. Furthermore, the Park has become a showcase for teaching non-aboriginals about Native culture offering dance performances, craft classes, tipi sleepovers, Native cuisine, classes on Indian culture and much more.
I was learning that Wanuskewin Heritage Park is one of the most important archaeological and Native centers in North America, and an under-appreciated gem of Saskatchewan.
Later I strolled along an interpretive trail and came upon the buffalo rubbing rock. I couldn’t resist. “Ah, that feels sooo good.”
Delta Bessborough Hotel: www.deltahotels.com/Hotels/Delta-Bessborough
Wanuskewin Heritage Park: www.wanuskewin.com
Tourism Information: www.tourismsaskatoon.com