First in a series: Aboriginal tourism in Canada
Published Wednesday, July 22, 2015 8:04AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, July 22, 2015 9:09AM EDT
Part one of our three-part series on Aboriginal tourism kicks off w a visit to Alberta’s Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park & a tour of the rock art found there.
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta is home to the largest concentration of rock art on the North American Plains and is as scared to the local Blackfoot tribes as Mecca is to Muslims.
A hike through the hoodoos, rusty-coloured sandstone rock eroded into giant mushrooms, is a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours. Paddling or floating down the Milk River, which runs through the park, offers visitors an incredible view of this revered valley. There are places to rent kayaks, inner tubes and paddle boards in the local area.
The highlight of any visit is a guided hike. Hundreds of paintings (pictographs) and thousands of rock carvings (petroglyphs) on the steep valley walls tell the story of the Blackfoot people over thousands of years. As a culture that relies on oral tradition to survive, it was fascinating to hear our guide, Deserae Yellow Horn, interpret the scenes played out on the rock faces as told to her by generations of Blackfoot elders and relatives. She also explained that the valley is sacred because it is home to the spirits of her ancestors who communicate with those inhabiting the living world through the rock art.
Camping is the only option for accommodation in the park but it got a whole lot more comfortable this year with the introduction of three comfort camping sites. Built on wooden platforms, the canvas-tented structures provide all the necessities of home; a fridge and fan, pots and pans and a bed with pillows and linens. It's a great option for people who prefer their creature comforts or for travellers who want to incorporate a little outdoors into their vacation without having to lug all of the equipment along for the ride. A gas barbeque and fire pit made it easy to throw together a meal of barbecued shrimp kabobs.
The park is approximately a three and a half hour drive south of Calgary. I recommend a pit stop en route at Fort Whoop Up National Historic Site outside of Lethbridge. It's an opportunity to learn about the legacy of our RCMP in the settlement of the West and learn more about the Plains Indians. And not by reading brochures. Elders from the local tribes are involved in the museum and offer storytelling sessions, smudging ceremonies and guidance on the museum's programming. I felt quite honoured that our crew was asked to participate in a smoking ceremony, which out of respect for the culture, we did not tape for camera. It was well worth the visit.