Following the squeak of the wheels of the Red River horse-drawn cart, I join a group of revelers as they ascend the banks of the North Saskatchewan River to the site of a Métis camp. We are reconstructing a traditional Métis bison hunt, but with a variation. Instead of capturing animals, we celebrate their return to their natural environment.
Moments later, cattle trailers arrive in the nearby paddock and the doors open. The thunder of the wood bison, their hooves thumping so hard I can imagine how they must once have made the earth shake beneath their feet. Continuing at full gallop, the animals run until they disappear into a distant corner of the boreal forest.
“Buffalo hunting was at the heart of our culture. But we hunted until they disappeared, ”says Arthur Cunningham, Métis Crossing board member. “Now we put them back. “
The release of woods, plains and rare white bison (often referred to as buffalo), elk and heritage Percheron horses in the 380-acre Métis Crossing Wildlife Park was a 12 or 160 year dream, depending on who you ask. .
It has been 12 years since the founding board of Métis Crossing first envisioned a cultural center just outside of Smoky Lake, Alta., Where visitors could explore the shores of the North Saskatchewan River and take a trip to the heart. of Métis culture through learning. But it has been about 160 years since the last bison – or “bufloo” in Michif, the language of the Métis – roamed these hills.
The goal of Métis Crossing is to evoke this distant era, but also to give a voice to the modern, often misunderstood Métis nation, one of the three recognized groups of Indigenous peoples in Canada, whose distinct culture and language. evolved from the combination of indigenous peoples. and European ancestry during the fur trade.
Since 2005, the cultural center, located on historic grounds on the Métis River about 100 kilometers northeast of Edmonton, has welcomed summer visitors to its 19th-century farmhouse for camping, canoeing, shooting. bow and craft workshops. Now, the release of the bison in September marks its expansion into a year-round destination, which is currently scheduled to reopen on December 10.
In addition to the wildlife park – officially called Visions, Hope and Dreams at Métis Crossing Wildlife Park – the center has a charming new 40-room lodge designed by Métis architect Tiffany Shaw-Collinge. Rooms feature traditional artwork, including quilts hand-sewn by the New Dawn Métis Women’s Society. In winter, you can fall asleep to the peaceful sounds of the countryside, then wake up and participate in a range of Métis experiences.
“Tales from the Trapline” for example, teaches Métis trapping techniques including snowshoeing, snaring and building a survival shelter, while “Whispers from the Stars” includes native tales across the night sky. Other activities include cross-country skiing, Métis finger weaving and beading, as well as interpretive tours of the animal park.
When the plains bison are released, we reach the last enclosure where they are set free. Sixty million of them once roamed the prairies. In 1889, there were only 541 animals left. The reintroduction of the bison is not just a matter of conservation, it is an act of reconciliation. This will further the centre’s mission to share culture in a meaningful way, as large buffalo hunting gatherings each spring and fall have allowed the Métis nation to develop its own laws, justice systems, and culture.
“It’s a dream come true,” says Juanita Marois, CEO of Métis Crossing, as the newly released bison race halfway up the hill before suddenly stopping to feed – like s’ they knew they were home.
Where to find other Indigenous tourism experiences in Canada this winter
British Columbia: Escape the cold at Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort in the Kootenay region of British Columbia. Purchased in 2015 by the traditional landowners – the Ktunaxa people of the Lower Kootenay Band – the centerpiece of the complex is the natural cave system, from which the warm waters nupika wu’u (“Spiritual waters”) flow. Don’t miss the regional, native-inspired cuisine at Ktunaxa Grill, which uses fresh, forage ingredients such as trout with a sumac and cedar vinaigrette.
Alberta: Deepen your understanding of the Stoney Nakoda Nation’s traditional connection to Banff, Alberta with “Nightrise at the Banff Gondola” (December 2 – March 12, 2022). Created by Moment Factory with support from the Stoney Nakoda Nation, this multimedia show uses colorful lights, effects and soundscapes to tell the story of the Stoney Nakoda Nation and its connection to the region. The experience begins in the gondola and continues over the four levels of the gondola station at the top of Sulfur Mountain.
Saskatchewan: Discover Wanuskewin, a gathering place for the indigenous peoples of the plains for over 6,000 years. Over the past two years, the Saskatoon Cultural Center has undergone a $ 40 million expansion to add new exhibits (including one detailing the most recent archaeological finds: four rock petroglyphs and their carving tool) and a new trail. racket. In December 2019, 11 plains bison were reintroduced to the landscape and April 2020 marked the first birth of a calf in the territory since 1876.
Ontario: Fish the canoe routes of the Anishinabek people of Manitoulin Island in northeastern Ontario with Wasse-Giizhik Tours. Winter options include ice fishing trips to frozen inland lakes for rainbow trout, lake trout or whitefish. Guided excursions include portable and heated ice fishing cabins, fishing rods, and bait. Summer fishing trips and cultural tours are also available.
New Brunswick: Experience the Miramichi River system in winter and learn about the traditions of the Mi’kmaq people of Metepenagiag with a stay at Red Bank Lodge in Red Bank, NB Snowshoe overnight packages include use of snowshoes for a self-guided walk, history native and storytelling, and the opportunity to spot deer, moose and a variety of birds.
Writer Diane Selkirk traveled as a guest of Destination Canada, which has neither reviewed nor approved this article. Travelers are reminded to check for public health restrictions that may affect their plans.