WHERE THE EARTH SPEAKS

Canada has spe­cial places to ex­pe­ri­ence na­ture and learn about In­dige­nous his­tory

Montreal Gazette - - TRAVEL - DEBBIE OLSEN Debbie Olsen is an award-win­ning Metis writer and a na­tional best­selling au­thor. Fol­low her at her site wan­der­woman.ca.

You never for­get the ex­pe­ri­ence of walk­ing among the sand­stone hoodoos of Al­berta's Writin­gon-stone Pro­vin­cial Park. There is an un­de­ni­able en­ergy in the land­scape. The Black­foot be­lieve all things within the world — in­clud­ing rocks — are charged with su­per­nat­u­ral power. Some­times rocks, earth, the el­e­ments or an­i­mals com­mu­ni­cate their sa­cred knowl­edge with hu­mans in par­tic­u­lar places at spe­cific times.

Canada is filled with sites that are sa­cred to In­dige­nous peo­ples. Some say these places hold the mem­o­ries of the Earth. One thing is cer­tain — they are fas­ci­nat­ing to ex­plore and pro­vide unique in­sights into the his­tory and be­liefs of the peo­ple who have oc­cu­pied this land since time im­memo­rial. Here are a few worth putting on your bucket list:

WRIT­ING-ON-STONE PRO­VIN­CIAL PARK/ÁíSíN AI' PI NA­TIONAL HIS­TORIC SITE OF CANADA( ALTA .)

In the far south of Al­berta, near Mon­tana's Sweet­grass Hills, is a place called Áísí­nai'pi by the Black­foot. Loosely trans­lated, it means “where the draw­ings are.” This UNESCO World Her­itage Site con­tains the largest con­cen­tra­tion of In­dige­nous pet­ro­glyphs (rock carv­ings) and pic­tographs (rock paint­ings) on the Great Plains of North Amer­ica. The stun­ning land­scape of the Milk River Val­ley in­cludes sand­stone cliffs and fas­ci­nat­ing rock for­ma­tions that, ac­cord­ing to leg­end, are home to pow­er­ful spir­its.

For more than 3,500 years, In­dige­nous peo­ple have camped in and around the area. It is a place where young war­riors went dur­ing “vi­sion quests,” spend­ing days fast­ing and pray­ing for spirit dreams to come to them. The rock art at this site may be a record of these spirit dreams, but the Black­foot be­lieve it is the work of spir­its them­selves. In­dige­nous guides at this park lead guests on guided tours of the rock art.

Web­site: al­ber­ta­parks.ca/parks/ south/writ­ing-on-stone-pp

HEAD-SMASHED-IN-BUF­FALO JUMP ( A LTA . )

One of the world's largest, old­est and best-pre­served buf­falo jumps is found in the foothills of the Rocky Moun­tains in south­west Al­berta. This UNESCO World Her­itage Site was used by In­dige­nous peo­ples for nearly 6,000 years and you can still see the re­mains of marked trails, an­i­mal bones and camp­sites. In­dige­nous guides take vis­i­tors out to the cliff and ex­plain the process skilled hunters used to chase bi­son over the edge. The site, how­ever, is not named for the buf­falo who smashed their heads while fall­ing off the cliff.

Ac­cord­ing to leg­end, a young boy who was watch­ing the hunt from be­low the cliffs was crushed by one of the mas­sive an­i­mals. Hunters found his body un­der a pile of car­casses. This site in­cludes a fas­ci­nat­ing on-site in­ter­pre­tive cen­tre and mu­seum that tells the his­tory of the peo­ple of the Great Plains. Drum­ming and danc­ing and spe­cial events hap­pen reg­u­larly. Web­site: heads­mashedin.ca

S GANG GWA AY (B.C.)

On the is­land of Sgang Gwaay in the ar­chi­pel­ago of Haida Gwaay, lies the re­mains of a once-thriv­ing so­ci­ety. For thou­sands of years, the Haida peo­ple lived on this re­mote is­land un­til in­tro­duced dis­ease dec­i­mated the pop­u­la­tion. The last vil­lagers left in the late 1800s. What re­mains of the vil­lage — 10 houses and 32 me­mo­rial poles — is so unique and spe­cial, it was named a UNESCO World Her­itage site.

The carved me­mo­rial or mortuary poles are sym­bols of fam­ily his­tory held in­side the bones of an­ces­tors. For that rea­son, to visit this vil­lage is to walk among the spir­its of the Haida. To­day the is­land is part of Gwaii Haanas Na­tional Park Re­serve.

Web­site: pc.gc.ca/gwai­ihaanas

WA NU SKEW IN HER­ITAGE PARK (SASK.)

Canada's long­est-run­ning ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dig site lies just out­side the city of Saska­toon at Wanuskewin Her­itage Park. For thou­sands of years, no­madic tribes gath­ered at this site and their sto­ries are still be­ing un­cov­ered. Four in­ter­pre­tive trails al­low vis­i­tors to ex­pe­ri­ence the nat­u­ral beauty of this area while learn­ing about the peo­ple who camped here. The park has 19 pre-con­tact sites, in­clud­ing two buf­falo jumps. Many of the arche­o­log­i­cal finds pre­date the pyra­mids of Egypt. Dur­ing the sum­mer, wit­ness ar­chae­ol­o­gists at work on ac­tive digs, take part in tours or stay overnight in a teepee. This Na­tional His­toric Site of Canada has a beau­ti­ful in­ter­pre­tive cen­tre with an art gallery and a gift shop. Web­site: wanuskewin.com

PIMACHIOWI­NAKI (MAN., ONT.)

In the Anishi­naabe­mowin (Ojibwa) lan­guage, “Pimachiowi­n Aki” means “the land that gives life.” It is Canada's first mixed UNESCO World Her­itage site — named for both its nat­u­ral as­sets and its cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance. At 2,904,000 hectares, it is part of the largest tract of un­touched bo­real wilder­ness on the planet and con­tains hun­dreds of lakes, rivers and wetlands, and more than a thou­sand plant and an­i­mal species. The Anishi­naabeg are keep­ers of this land — us­ing an­cient con­ser­va­tion prac­tices as they hunt, fish and gather.

Web­site: pi­maki.ca

KE JIM KUJIK NA­TIONAL PARK AND NA­TIONAL HIS­TORIC SITE (N.S.)

For thou­sands of years, the Mi'kmaq lived in the area of Ke­jimku­jik Na­tional Park and more than 500 pet­ro­glyphs pro­vide in­sights into their lives and cul­ture. It's an area of ex­tra­or­di­nary beauty that of­fers some of the best pad­dling in At­lantic Canada — with 46 lakes and ponds, and 30 streams and rivers. It is also a mag­i­cal place. The word “ke­jimku­jik” means “lit­tle fairies” and it is the name of one of the lakes in­side the park. Tra­di­tional sto­ries tell of a gnome-like peo­ple who lived near the lake. The park runs unique in­ter­pre­tive pro­grams that pro­vide in­sights into the cul­ture of the Mi'kmaq and their de­scen­dants, the Mi'kmaw. Web­site: pc.gc.ca/ke­jimku­jik Note: Check the web­site or call ahead be­fore vis­it­ing an In­dige­nous nat­u­ral or his­toric site. Some sites listed above are partly or fully closed due to COVID-19.

SCOTT MUNN/PARKS CANADA

Tourists are said to walk among the spir­its of the Haida on the Bri­tish Columbia is­land of Sgang Gwaay in Gwaii Haanas Na­tional Park Re­serve.

P. HOPE/PARKS CANADA

Vis­i­tors can see hun­dreds of Mi'kmaq pet­ro­glyphs at Ke­jimku­jik Na­tional Park and Na­tional His­toric Site in Nova Sco­tia.

GREG OLSEN

The Black­foot be­lieve pow­er­ful spir­its re­side in the sand­stone hoodoos of Áísí­nai'pi or Writ­ing-on-stone Pro­vin­cial Park in Al­berta.

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