We went to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 50 km from Pincher Creek and with Waterton’s majestic skyline.
This area is the traditional home of the Niitsítapi (Blackfoot Confederacy) which means ‘original people.’ The Piikáni (North Piegan), a member of the confederacy, traveled to Waterton’s Blakiston Valley and gathered at Akaitapi (good campsite). The area was also used by the Ktunaxa (Kootenay or Kootenai) who came from the west and provided food, water, and shelter.
The Niitsítapi gathered at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and used innovative strategies to hunt the plains bison. Legend has it the name comes from an unfortunate incident when a young man wanted a closer view of the action. He waited at the base of the cliff, but the hunt was extremely successful and, when he was found, he had sustained a broken skull and died.
Archaeologists discovered evidence that this site was on a migratory path for indigenous people at least 5500 years ago. A buffalo jump or ‘pishkun’ in Niitsítapi used drive lanes marked by rock cairns. The buffalo ran in the drive lanes and, as they approached the cliff, the last part of the drive lane sloped up and the jump was not noticeable. The process required perfect human timing and was extremely dangerous.
A small herd of bison live in a paddock at Waterton, but at one time these animals covered the Great Plains of North America. The bison is often called a ‘walking supermarket’ as almost all its body parts were usable and often harvested.
Super store on legs
Symbolic prairie icon
A sideshow item.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is at the confluence of three geological formations. The Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains are well-known. The picture below is the rise into the Porcupine Hills. In the foreground is a hill where young Niitsítapi men transitioned to manhood through a vision quest. The hill, due to its spiritual significance to the Niitsítapi people, does not have public access.
Young person’s journey
Discover one’s inner self
Quest into adulthood.
We watched traditional dancing and heard traditional drumming and singing at the interpretive centre . The drum is symbolic of Mother Earth’s heartbeat in Niitsítapi tradition.
Symbol of Mother Earth’s heart
We are one with Her.