Imagine the ancient grassy Canadian prairies, thousands of years ago. Endless grasses rustle in the wind and the empty landscape stretches toward the horizon. Suddenly, the earth starts shake with a deep rumble, becoming stronger and louder. It’s not an earthquake, it’s the pounding hooves of hundreds of enormous buffalo, stampeding at full speed across the dry prairie ground. A dark cloud of fast-moving flesh, these huge lumbering beasts move as one – like a flock of birds or a school of fish. Brave warriors run behind, dressed in skins and bearing spears – closing in for the kill.
Then, the buffalo reach a cliff where the earth drops away and they have nowhere to run. They tumble off the edge in droves, their heavy bodies crumpling to the ground below. Their legs shatter beneath them, rendering them helpless and making it easy for more hunters to finish the job with their spears and their bows. Everyone in the community will have a full belly of buffalo meat tonight.
A buffalo jump is a cliff formation that the North American First Nations people used to hunt and kill the plains bison, driving them over the cliffs in mass quantities, in a time before horses and guns. Although this hunting method is no longer practiced, it is still possible to visit a few buffalo jumps on the prairies and learn more about First Nations History.
Wanuskewin Heritage Park
Visiting An Ancient Buffalo Jump
Near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan you will find the Wanuskewin Heritage Park, which is a non-profit cultural and historical centre for the First Nations people. In this area of the prairie, people have been gathering for more than 6,000 years. The nomadic tribes used to gather here to hunt the bison and find food – and to take shelter from the winds in the winter months. There have been artefacts and bones found here which date back thousands of years. At this site, archaeologists have uncovered winter and summer camp sites, tipi rings, bison kill sites, pottery fragments, animal bones and much more.
The heritage park is home to a Northern Plains Indian cultural interpretive centre, which offers 360 acres of scenic trails and interpretive sites. It is a great place to learn about the culture and history of the Plains people, as it also offers hands-on demonstrations of traditional dance, cuisine and much more. As well as being a tourist attraction, the heritage park is also a gathering day for present day First Nations people and it is used for Pipe Ceremonies, traditional dance performances and much more.
During my visit there, I stumbled upon some archaeologists carrying out a dig. While chatting to one of them, he pulled a buffalo hoof from the ground and handed it to me. As I looked at it, he told that it was the first time that hoof had seen the sunlight in approximately 3,000 years. What an amazing experience – to hold a piece of the past in my hands.
How to Get There
Wanuskewin Heritage Park is located three kilometres north of the town of Saskatoon, near the west bank of the South Saskatchewan River.
The heritage park is open from May until September, 7 days per week from 9am until 4:30pm. Admission costs are $8.50 for adults and $6.50 for children. Children under 5 are free.
photo credit:Global Goose