Saskatoon: Truth and Reclamation

“May the stars carry your sadness away, May the flowers fill your heart with beauty, May hope forever wipe away your tears…”

Chief Dan George

During the second leg of the journey, our full cohort of TGC fellows split into two groups. One group headed to Saskatoon and the other, Quebec, for completely different experiences.

The powerful impact of the Northern Plains was unexpected. This land lended itself to some unexpected spiritual healing. Our journey in Saskatoon was steep in learning about Indigenous culture, history and the state of First Nations Peoples in Canada today. We began at the Wanuskewin Heritage Park with the guidance of Ms. Candice Wasacase-Lafferty. Ms. Lafferty is the Senior Director, Provost Indigenous Initiatives & Community Relations at the University of Saskatchewan and the co-director of Honoring Nations Canada (Fulbright initiative).

The fearless Candice Wasacase-Lafferty

The Wanuskewin Heritage Park is the land Indigenous peoples from across the Northern Plains lived on over six thousand years ago. The story of the Plains Indigenous peoples are a topic covered in many U.S. History classes both at the middle and high school level. My students and I often talk about the near annihilation of the Bison from the land, and as a result, the near extinction of Indigenous peoples.

“Kill every buffalo you can! Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone”.

William T. Sherman

Wanuskewin: “Gathering place”

Walking this land exemplified the power of experiencing a place versus simply reading about it in a textbook. Standing on the land which I have taught about over the course of a decade, was tremendous. The Northern Plains are enriching, and their beauty is quite surreal. The Wanuskewin Heritage Park website states the land is a space of deep spirituality, and this is not an overstatement. This sense of power is often felt in places that have a deep history of love and loss.

Enchanting lanscape

“The nomadic tribes who traveled through the Northern Plains gathered on this site of natural beauty where today visitors can relive the stories of a people who came here to hunt bison, gather food and herbs and escape the winter winds. Walking in their footsteps, you will understand why this site was a place of worship and celebration, of renewal with the natural world and of a deep spirituality, and is still this way today.” Wanuskewin Heritage Park

Often when we learn or teach on a topic, we can try our best to envision how things actually are, however, seeing it in person shows us the scale in which societies existed. This brief video is a replica at the Wanuskewin Heritage Park of a typical Indigenous camp ground.


Truth and Reclamation

As we spoke about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission launched in 2008 by the Canadian government, this process has been one of Truth and Reclamation for the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, as mentioned by Ms. Lafferty, our gracious host. We spoke at length about the importance of the connection with the land. Even when Indigenous peoples may not be living directly on the land, they visit for revitalization and connection. The preservation of culture is centered on the physicality and experience of a the place. The land carries importance because it witnessed the tales of ancestors, the land witnessed the joy, tears and in case of Indigenous peoples in North America, and globally, the removal of those ancestors by settler colonialists. Listening to Ms. Lafferty speaking was nothing short of mesmerizing, coupled with the quite tangible power of the Northern Plains, this experience was extraordinary.

Ms. Lafferty explaining the importance of the Wanuskewin Heritage Park.

Reintroducing Bison to the Northern Plains

The reintroduction of the Bison has been vital to reclaiming the Indigenous narrative and identity of the land. Prior to the near annihilation of the bison due to settler colonial policy, they were an integral part of the land, the food system and the natural landscape. Indigenous livelihood was dependent on bison. Near extinction impacted the entire ecosystem in the area. Restoring bison to the land, not only revitalizes indigenous culture, it also reinvigorates the land and ecosystem.

“When the Bison come back, the culture comes back”.

Wanuskewin: an “Archaeological Goldmine”

At the forefront of discovering many of the archeological treasures has been University of Saskatchewan’s professor, Dr. Ernest Walker, fondly known as “Ernie”. He walked us through the history of the Northern Plains, along with how the Bison themselves helped lead his team to discover rock carvings thousands of years old, believed to be carved by Indigenous people. He emphasized it may be the bisons way of signaling they were glad to be home. Standing on the land, it made absolute sense.

Dr. Ernie Walker, Professor of Archaeology, University of Saskatchewan
The land and skies merge as renowned professor speaks to TGC fellows

These bison were reintroduced to the Northern Plains and roam the Wanuskewin Heritage Park. In the audio, Dr. Walker is speaking.

Wanuskewin: World Heritage Site Bid

The Wanuskewin Heritage Park has bid to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The archaeological digs clearly depict vibrant peoples who lived on the land, hunted bison, and farmed. All indicators suggest “nearly every Pre-Contact cultural group recognized across the Plains gathered in this valley..” (UNESCO, World Heritage Convention).

Wishing our friends at the Wanuskewin Heritage Park good luck on their bid!

**This website is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are the participant’s own and do not represent the Fulbright for Global Classrooms Program, the US Department of State, or IREX.**

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