Museum offers a different perspective on culture

Driving out to Siksika Nation presents much different scenery than the city. The land looks like it would have hundreds of years ago, having been almost untouched in some areas.

On the east side of Siksika Nation, approximately an hour and a half east of Calgary, is the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park.

“We’re one of the few nations that have preserved our history. We kept our artifacts and stories intact,” said Judy Royal, senior interpreter at Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park.

The building itself is a piece of art. Information presented at the Blackfoot Crossing’s interpretive centre describes the building’s design as a reinterpretation of the vast range of Blackfoot culture.

The parfleche bag was used to store pemmican during winter months.
Photo by: Donella Swan

When looking at the building from the outside you’ll notice cone-shaped windows jutting out from the roof. Inside, the galleries are shaped like tipis, the cone-shaped skylights are at the top of all of them. It gives you the feeling of being in an actual-sized tipi.

There are four “tipi” galleries on the floor with additional artifacts and information.

Royal said that each tipi represents a season, and that it’s set up in a timeline formation to tell the storyline from the beginnings of creation to modern-day Blackfoot culture.

The first tipi, she said, is the summer tipi, which was a time of preparation for the Blackfoot people, as winter would soon arrive. A scene portraying the preparation for winter is shown, including the making of Pemmican, which is a mixture of dried buffalo meat, dried berries and fat.

The summer tipi displays preparation for winter.
Photo by: Donella Swan

The story progresses with the seasons, ending with spring. Royal said spring is a time for renewal and a celebration of new life. This is where the display of traditional dance outfits is set up. This tipi showcases celebration including the “chicken dancer” and “fancy dancer”, as traditional Pow Wow music floods your ears.

In between the summer and fall tipis is a display of parfleche bags, which were used to store the Pemmican during the winter months. These are watched over by a large statue of the traditional North American buffalo, which were plentiful in the area.

Besides the amazing artifacts and an intimate look at Blackfoot culture, the view of the historical land site is breathtaking. Large windows at the back of the gallery reveal the majestic Bow River. The cliffs along the river resemble the Drumheller Badlands.

Judy Royal stands beside her grandfather as his legend lives on at Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park.
Photo by: Donella Swan

Royal said this was the site of the signing of Treaty 7 in 1877, which changed Blackfoot culture forever. This was a significant deciding factor for the location of the museum. This particular location was the only place to cross the Bow River safely for miles, Royal said.

Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park is the world’s largest Blackfoot exhibit and is greater than that of the Glenbow Museum’s, said Bev Wright, vice president of programs and business development at Blackfoot Crossing.

“It’s very interesting and it’s pretty intertwined with the development of Canada,” Wright said.

Wright also mentioned that the view and the landscape add to the impact of the galleries because it provides a closer view to seeing how people lived back then. She said that in the summer, visitors are welcome to walk the paths down by the riverside and take in the scenery.

There are also frequent outdoor performances such as traditional Pow Wow dancing and hand drum competitions for guests to experience during summer months, mentioned Wright.

Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park summer hours are Monday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., May to Sept. Taking the Trans-Canada Highway east of Calgary and turning right at Cluny is one of the best routes.

dswan@cjournal.ca