Put on a buffalo hide and run with the pack at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
Photographer
Matthew Bailey

Put on a buffalo hide and run with the pack at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

A ZenSeekers' road trip isn't complete unless the destinations include outdoor adventures, and culinary, learning and cultural experiences. During summer 2018, create your #BucketlistAB itinerary in Southern Alberta and come and stay a night and see a sight.

Matthew Bailey

As one of Canada's UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is an incredible aboriginal legacy, helping to preserve more than 6,000 years of Blackfoot cultures and traditions that happened here in the North American plains.

Stay a Night & See a Sight. Build your #BucketlistAB

From the moment we arrived, we knew we were in for a surprise. It all started by entering the Interpretive Centre, a stunning building designed by the architect, Robert LaBlonde, which also won the Governor General's award for Architecture back in 1990. The building is built right into the hill, making it less intrusive and almost invisible from a distance. After meeting up with the group of women that would be joining us for the day, we were introduced to the general manager of the facility, Quinton Snowshoe, as well as Little Leaf, a Blackfoot elder that started our day off with a traditional Blackfoot blessing.

Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
Photographer
Matthew Bailey

A replica of the buffalo jump greets visitors as they enter the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretative Centre.

While a general tour of the area is fascinating, we decided to experience Piskun, the Buffalo Jump. This three-hour immersive experience took us back in time to learn the basics of buffalo hunting, get deeper into the Blackfoot culture, and get a much better appreciation of the site. After listening to the beautiful words of Little Leaf, we truly felt at ease. We then moved out into the museum to get some insight into what this site is all about. We learned about the tepee's, the wolves they tamed and used for work, the types of food they ate, and how they survived as a community, despite the harsh conditions of the prairies. We then moved outdoors to see the actual buffalo jump, where hundreds of thousands of buffalo were herded off the 36-foot cliff and to their demise throughout the centuries. What's truly incredible about the buffalo jump, however, is how they managed to do it.

With intelligently organized and trained groups of men, they would use the buffalo's instincts to their advantage. One man would dress up as a young buffalo acting like it was in distress. Others would dress as wolves to carefully scare the Buffalo into the path they wanted them in. Further, more men would plant various shrubs along the path and hide behind them with buffalo hides. As the buffalo began to slowly pick up speed until their eventual full-out stride, these men would hold up the buffalo hides to create darkness on both sides of the path, so that the running buffalo couldn't see any light to enable their escape.

Blackfoot Elder, Little Leaf, prepares to bless us during the Piskun, Buffalo Jump experience.

This was an incredible feat and in addition to providing meat to the families, it also provided a way for young men to find their identity and gain a sense of pride. Teenagers would admire the elders and would look forward to joining the hunt, proving themselves as a man capable of providing for his community. Now, this same personal development is happening with the interpretative centre. The youth join the centre as employees, learning about their own culture, and meeting elders who help guide them. Like the buffalo jump from centuries ago, the centre has now become the vehicle to help nurture young people and give them a purpose in life and sense of belonging to the communities.

After learning about the buffalo hunt and imagining how it was done, we got to re-enact it in a light-hearted way, dressing up as wolves or baby buffalo to see how it all would have played out. This was fun and combined with seeing and touching the various tools they would have used, it helped to bring Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump to life.

Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
Photographer
Matthew Bailey

Standing in front of the buffalo jump, our guide explains how his ancestors accomplished the hunt. 

As our visit came to end, we quickly snagged a group photo and went back into the room where we started and sat down with Little Leaf and other staff. We were given a parting gift, which included an arrowhead, a lovely souvenir that will bring back memories of our day.

As we went around the circle giving feedback about the experience, it was evident that everyone was blown away. Karla Sosa, a Mexican-Canadian woman who joined us on the tour, said, "I truly loved the entire day. Everyone was so friendly, and it was such a special experience to be involved in a traditional Blackfoot blessing before exploring this historic site. It was also fun to re-enact the buffalo hunt, as it gave us further insight into the practice. I'll always remember it."

If You Go

Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump is around two and a half hours south of Calgary, near Fort MacLeod.

Canalta Hotels has partnered up with a collection of destinations across Southern Alberta. Stay a Night & See a Sight. They're set to help you plan your trip.

Check the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump website to start planning your trip.

Travel Alberta also has lots of great information about things to do and places to see around Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump.

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