From the Wanuskewin Heritage Park centre, cross the grassy plain and peer over the cliff into the lush Opimihaw Creek Valley below. Close your eyes, feel the wind. It’s not hard to imagine this rich ecosystem as a magnet for nomadic Aboriginal peoples of the Northern Plains who, for over 6,000 years, came here to hunt bison, collect food and medicinal plants and escape that prairie wind. The site, which holds spiritual significance, is also home to an ancient medicine wheel.
“This was a gathering place,” says Dana Soonias, CEO of the non-profit cultural centre and national historic site located five kilometres from Saskatoon. “It was an ideal area to hunt bison, with a 100-foot (30-metre) drop straight into the valley. Natural springs provided clean drinking water. People tanned hides, made tools, pottery and clothes, and preserved pemmican.”
Today, people come from around the world to visit Wanuskewin’s archeological sites, home to Canada’s longest-running dig, with the University of Saskatchewan doing research here for the past 35 years. Go on a medicine walk, sleep in a tipi, dine on bison stew, take in art and dance performances. The unique cultural experience will only deepen as the park undergoes a $40-million renewal (thunderingahead.ca), seeks UNESCO World Heritage Site designation and brings in a small herd of bison. “Our long-term vision is to become a global centre of excellence in fostering education and respect for the land based on expressions of Indigenous culture, heritage and arts,” says Soonias, “as well as a beloved urban park.”