On July 23rd, a group of Indigenous youth came together at Pathways for a sacred circle and offering ceremony led by Blackfoot Elder and ceremonialist, Grant Little Mustache before embarking on their journey through Southern Alberta. We travelled far and wide to sleep in teepees, swim in rivers, listen to our Elders, and unleash our spirits! From the Okotoks Big Rock to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump to Indian Battle Park to Writing on Stone to Blackfoot Crossing, and home again! We offered tobacco to the trees, played wild hoodoo games, greeted two cougars standing outside our teepee door, spotted rattle snakes, translated petroglyphs, floated down the Milk River, witnessed the most epic sunsets, and ended with a beautiful sweat at our home lodge!
Our first stop was the Okotoks Erratic (the ‘Big Rock’)! We climbed to the top and learned the Blackfoot story of ‘Napi.’ Our next stop was Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, where we toured the museum and ventured to the Buffalo Jump learning about the historic events and the spiritual meaning and purpose of the buffalo, “iinii” in Blackfoot. Lastly, we made it to Buffalo Rock Tipi Camp for the evening. Owner and Knowledge Keeper, Harley Bastien, shared old stories of the land and ignited a passion in our youth for ecological justice and the importance to us and future generations that we invest in the health of our shared environment.
The next day, after a bannock and buffalo stew lunch, we carried on to Indian Battle Park located in the heart of Lethbridge. Blackfoot Elder, Casey Eaglespeaker met with us and told stories relating to the park, describing the Battle of Belly River, and the significance of our next stop, Writing on Stone Provincial Park. The eyes of our young people widened as they listened to stories of spirits residing in stones and petroglyphs depicting the history of their ancestors.
The following day, Blackfoot Elder, Randy Bottle led our tour through Writing on Stone Provincial Park. He shared some of the interpreted meanings behind the petroglyphs, recalling old stories and happenings of the location. The landscape, battles, and ceremonies that took place were a recurring theme among the images on the stone. Later that day, we grabbed our swimsuits and floated down the Milk River, letting the current sweep us from our camp site to the campground beach. Arguably the most outstanding moment for both campers and counsellors, was our playtime and sharing circle that concluded this busy day. As the sun set on the hoodoos, we played capture the flag – youth jumped from the top of hoodoos to tag each other, bellowing warrior cries and bursting with laughter! We settled down and lit the smudge as we sat on top of the tallest hoodoo, overlooking the valley under the starry sky. As the smudge went around, the youth counted constellations and wondered about the universe. We passed the feather and shared our greatest enjoyments from our travels and our hopes for the next two days.
Day four, we packed up camp and left for Blackfoot Crossing. Knowledge Keeper, Clinton Turning Robe led our tour at Blackfoot Crossing, the historic site of the signing of Treaty No.7, and a site of preservation of the Siksika Nation Peoples’ language, culture and traditions. Following Blackfoot Crossing, we spent our last evening at our home lodging, East of Okotoks beside the Bow River. We treated ourselves to the traditional feast of Kentucky Fried Chicken and told stories of our Southern Alberta journey, laughing around the camp fire.
On July 27th, our journey concluded with a healing sweat lodge ceremony at our home camp, led by Cree Elder, Patrick Diagnault. Before entering the lodge, Patrick passed around sacred items for the youth to add to their medicine pouches. In a circle, we passed around coloured bits of cloth, sage, sweetgrass, tobacco, and tiny amethyst stones, each person taking some of each item and adding it to their pouch as both a medicine and memory of their time at Cultural Travel Camp.
We shared some wonderful stories, moments, and travels together. The people, the places, and the moments where time stood still with the beauty of the prairies. It's been an incredible adventure with the most incredible youth!
-Erin Henderson, Pathways CSA, Circle Connector, Miskanawah