Listen closely as a storyteller shares Ktunaxa legends around a crackling campfire. Enjoy bison stew with bannock; wrap up your meal with a sweet berry pie. As the evening sun sets, turning the white teepees that surround you to glowing pink, soak up the sounds of birdsong and the rush of a nearby river.
Welcome to St. Eugene Golf Resort and Casino, a former residential school that has been transformed into an international entertainment destination where, as former Chief Sophie Pierre said, “we’re selling an opportunity to understand our history, to know our people and to share our vision of turning a 60-year nightmare around. We’re creating new memories for our children."
A short drive from Cranbrook, B.C., St. Eugene is comprised of a hotel, with beautifully appointed rooms, spa, pool and several restaurants, a casino and a golf course designed by acclaimed architect Les Furber. Popular with visitors from across North America, the destination employs about 250 people.
"What do I like about my job? What don’t I like about it?” says CEO Barry Zwueste. “It’s an amazing experience — to be part of something that has struggled in the past, and to see our team come together and create a profitable, promising enterprise.”
At the resort’s interpretive centre, learn about the Sturgeon Nose canoe, unique to the Ktunaxa people and designed to navigate the swampy areas of the Kootenay River system. Take part in the resort’s new Speaking Earth program, where you can sign up for individual activities (moccasin making or guided interpretive tour) or, alternatively, choose a two-day adventure that includes traditional games, beading and sleeping in a teepee.
The late Mary Paul, an elder who believed in the possibilities for this former residential school, is often quoted in literature featuring the resort: “Since it was within the St. Eugene Mission School that the culture of the Kootenay Indian was taken away, it should be within that building that it is returned."