As much as it is a celebration, Canada 150 is an opportunity to understand the modern and historical injustices faced by First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples. Truth and reconciliation starts with education and awareness, and here travel can play a role. Hundreds of experiences across the country provide unique insight into indigenous history and culture. A few have already been covered by the Canada 150 Countdown, and more will be highlighted by the Canada 200 Countdown starting on July 4. (Yes, this is happening.)
Consider these two places on the prairies of southern Alberta. As a teenager growing up in Calgary, where First Nations culture is much more visible than in my adopted hometown of Toronto, they made a profound and lasting impression:
Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park
Why did indigenous people, coming and going over the millennia, pick this particular spot to amass the greatest concentration of rock art on the North American Plains? My repeat visits to this compact park deep in southern Alberta revealed the allure: A sea of towering sandstone hoodoos for spiritual inspiration, and a dip in the gently meandering Milk River for delicious relaxation. A wealth of wildlife — pheasant, partridge, deer and antelope — must have delivered dinner back in the day, but in the late 1980s we dined on grilled Alberta steaks — a spiritual experience all its own. Likewise, modern guided tours explored the 50-plus sites where, centuries ago, images of warriors, hunters and dancers were carved into the hoodoos.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Standing atop this gravity-powered abattoir, I could almost hear the thunder of hooves and the crunch of skulls. For 6,000 years, the region’s Blackfoot people hunted buffalo en masse by driving herds of the beefy beasts off 35-foot-high cliffs. My imagination had already been ignited by the World Heritage Site’s interpretive centre, where I had witnessed a demonstration of drumming and dancing and learned to craft my own moccasins. But with nothing but rolling prairie between myself and the horizon, it was mainly the emptiness of the place that made it so evocative of a way of life — and death — that will never return.