tawâw, to experience Grande Prairie Indigenous cultures
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Grande Prairie, AB — Situated on Treaty 8 territory—home to the Tsattine River People or Dane-zaa (Beaver People), Nehiyawak (Cree People), and Dene People, and later, the Métis Nation as well—Grande Prairie’s Indigenous tourism scene is bursting with welcoming opportunities.
In recent years, there has been a swell of interest from the public to learn more about the history and peoples original to these lands. And so, in my traditional language, I say tawâw: welcome, come in, there is room for you.
WATCH: connect to Indigenous cultures in Grande Prairie
Every year Grande Prairie produces exceptional events that celebrate the culture and contributions of Indigenous peoples who call this area home.
As an active member of the Indigenous community, I consider myself fortunate to have been nurtured and mentored by local Elders, leaders, and community organizers. In 2019, I started a community blog called T8GP.com (Treaty 8, Grande Prairie) as a way to enhance connection and community for all.
On a recent summer weekend, my sister and I had the opportunity to spend time immersed in some of these experiences (btw, hi! That's us, in the photos). This was the entry point into a larger exploration of Indigenous culture in Grande Prairie, which is even richer than I’d realized.
If you’re looking to connect to Grande Prairie’s Indigenous cultures, and learn more about the Nations in Treaty 8, here are a few ways you can do that, based on our time there.
Open Road Adventures
First step, set up basecamp. For us that meant a glamping tipi experience at Evergreen Park. This tipi is available for rental with Open Road Adventures Inc., a local Indigenous-owned glamping company.
Tipi glamping is a unique and immersive camping experience that combines the comfort of traditional glamping with the traditional structure of a tipi.
Spending time inside a tipi provides a sense of security and calm for many, myself included. I’m so glad that Open Road Adventures Inc. has created this opportunity for more people to experience the tranquility that the tipi offers.
And the great thing about this tipi is that Open Road Adventures Inc. is willing to set it up anywhere within 50km of Grande Prairie!
Art Gallery of Grande Prairie
Next, we visited the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie to visit the Powwow! OchÎwin the Origins exhibit.
This show was created by Marrisa and Patrick Mitsuing. Marrisa and Patrick worked with Indigenous knowledge keepers and artists to develop art pieces to teach the history and meaning behind Powwow.
The exhibition was also supported by local knowledge keeper, Fran Rogers-Chowace. Fran worked as a guest curator to bring together local Indigenous stories and artwork. The reverence and respect for place-based teachings is demonstrated through these local contributions.
Exhibit attendees gain further insight as to how Powwow came to arrive in this area. Recently, there has been commitment from the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie to host annual Indigenous exhibits from June-September.
This means that every year the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie will have something incredible on display in tandem with other local Indigenous events and gatherings!
The Mamawe Concourse at the Montrose Cultural Centre provided the perfect rest stop between activities. Mamawe is a Cree word that translates to "all together" or "let's gather" in English. It is often used to signify unity and coming together.
Near to Montrose Cultural Centre is an outdoor park that features a water fountain and a large, treed area. Sitting in the cool shade before we headed off to the Grande Prairie Traditional Powwow was so refreshing.
Grande Prairie Traditional Powwow
Our final activity of the day was spending time immersed in positive energy at the Grande Prairie Traditional Powwow. This is an annual cultural event that celebrates Indigenous traditions and heritage through dance, music, art, and community gathering.
This year, thanks to support from the City of Grande Prairie, the Powwow found a home at Bonnetts Energy Centre.
One of my favorite parts of the Grande Prairie Powwow is the grand entry. Seeing all the dancers together, excited and ready to dance, fills my heart with joy and gratitude.
It can feel overwhelming (in a good way) to witness the beauty of so many dancers moving in unison to the beat of the drum.
Each dance category has deep significance and meaning, and the dancers demonstrate that through their style and movement. It is commonplace for Indigenous vendors to line the perimeter of the Powwow floor.
Vendors bring their best beadwork, ribbon skirts, and other handcrafted items for Powwow guests to purchase. Taking in the exquisite artisanship is an experience in and of itself. Recognizing that these items are not available in your average department store makes them even more special.
Food vendors also serve up dishes that can’t be found just anywhere. For example, the Flyin’ Hawaiian food truck created a signature “Powwow Lemonade” drink – swirls of blue goodness topped with a Hawaiian umbrella. So delicious!
Attending Indigenous gatherings, art exhibits, and immersive experiences are a great way to learn and make new connections. It means a lot when people from all cultural backgrounds take interest and show up to celebrate alongside us.
And while June may be an opportune time to join in, your invitation is not only limited to one month a year. Please know that when Indigenous events and experiences are advertised to the public, you are welcome and encouraged to attend. tawâw - Welcome! Come in, there is room for you.
When You Go
Grande Prairie is the largest city in Alberta's north, with outdoor adventure, arts and culture, shopping and events year-round.
More Grande Prairie travel tips
Uncover northwest Alberta and Indigenous culture in Grande Prairie:
- Take a tour of the Traditional Healing Garden at the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre
- Make a stop at the Grande Prairie Downtown Farmers Market (Wednesday and Saturdays) – pick up some grub and picnic in Muskoseepi Park (Bear Creek in Cree)
- Visit Kleskun Hill Provincial Park – sit with the land and see how it speaks to you
- Weave your way into a Tuesday night ladies beading circle with the Traditional Pathways Society
- Camp Indigenous when you are here with Open Road Adventures
- Take home a piece of Indigenous art or otherwise from the Métis-owned Grant Berg Gallery in Grande Prairie's City Centre, and be sure to check out Berg's "Windswept" that sits on the Mamawe Concourse, a public sculpture he describes as "a tribute to the resiliency of our ancestors"
Where to stay & more
Your local hosts Grande Prairie Regional Tourism Association have you covered for accommodations and all things Grande Prairie travel. You can even stay in a teepee right at Evergreen Park!
For more travel planning ideas check out #exploreNWAB on ZenSeekers.com for stories on travel and outdoor adventure in the area. Start with this feature on Indigenous cultural experiences in Grande Prairie.