Humans often set the sacred in opposition to the profane and mundane. In what we might consider of as less sophisticated or mystical traditions, the distinctions are less in evidence. The sacred and profane blend together and are readily experienced in the traditions and daily lives of people. Sophisticated has to do with wisdom (sophia, so who am I to judge what is wisdom in a world I am an outsider to? This stands out to me when I visit Indigenous sites in Alberta and beyond. In ways they are stewards of Nature in ways I cannot be as I do not understand my relationship to Nature in a proper way.
On our way to Waterton, we went to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Archaeologists discovered evidence the site was on a migratory path for indigenous people, primarily the Niitsítapi (Blackfoot Confederacy), who used innovative ways to hunt plains bison at least 5500 years ago. A jump or ‘pishkun’ in Niitsítapi used drive lanes marked by rock cairns. The buffalo ran between the cairns and the last part of the drive lane sloped up, making the jump unnoticeable. The process required perfect human timing and was extremely dangerous.
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. The hunt was successful and, when he was found, he sustained a broken skull and died.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is at the confluence of three geological formations. The Rocky Mountains and Great Plains are well-known. The picture below shows the rise into the Porcupine Hills. Young Niitsítapi men transitioned to manhood through a vision quest and went to the hill in the foreground. The hill, with spiritual meaning to the Niitsítapi, does not have public access.
Enter spiritual space
Questing for adulthood.
At Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump’s interpreprative centre, we watched traditional dancing and heard traditional drumming and singing. The drum symbolizes Mother Earth’s heartbeat in Niitsítapi and other indigenous traditions.
Beating hearts gather
Singing, dancing, encircling
Joining as one with Her.
I took this picture as we turned towards Waterton. It was a hot, hazy day, blocking a view of the mountains.
The Niitsítapi meaning ‘original people,’ had their tradtional homes here. The Piikáni (North Piegan), a member of the confederacy, traveled to Waterton’s Blakiston Valley and gathered at Akaitapi (good campsite), providing food, water, and shelter. The area was also used by the Ktunaxa (Kootenay or Kootenai) who traveled from the west, through what is now the Crowsnest Pass.
hot, hazy beauty
shimmering above prairies
block distant bastions.
A small herd of bison live in a paddock at Waterton. At one time bison covered the Great Plains of North America. This was literal. People heard them long before they came into view and, when they were visible, it was a mass of brown and black that covered the prairies. Indigenous people used this animals as a ‘walking supermarket’ as almost all its body parts were harvested and usable.
Proud people’s icon
Plains symbol of abundance
Today’s sad sideshow.
We have attended a number of concerts with John Wort Hannam performing. He is from the part of Alberta I highlighted and has a beautiful song about the hills around the area. Enjoy.