Sacred proirie site of Canada’s First Nations
Pronounced “Wah-nus-KAY-win,” this is a sacred site full of symbolism, symmetry, and spirits. Like Sydney Opera House’s sail or shark fin motif, the tipi encampment “signature” atop the impressive visitor center at the Wanuskewin Heritage Park is a significant landmark on the prairie horizon.
As visitors approach Wanuskewin by car, the four-pointed roof is a highly visible nod to Canada’s First Nations, who saw the number four as life enhancing. The circle is the other sacred symbol much in evidence here, from the indoor replica of a circular buffalo pound to the interactive exhibit area shaped like a giant tipi and the ring-shaped amphitheater where “round” and “hoop” dances are still performed. Wanuskewin—which means “seeking peace of mind”—was very much a sacred place for First Nation worship and celebration. That spiritual connection to the natural environment is reflected sympathetically in the architecture, landscape, and displays.
With a history dating back more than 6,000 years, this was land used for hunting and occasional wintering by a half dozen Indian tribes of the Northern Plains, including the Gee, Sioux-Assiniboia, and Plains Ojibwa, before they were moved off to the reservations in the 1870s. Reflecting the tribes’ dependence on buffalo meat and hides at the site, the visitor center rests at the head of a buffalo jump and “drive lane,” where hunters stampeded the animals to the jump. Sculptures of buffalo galloping at full gait greet you outside the entrance, led by an Indian runner decoy disguised as a calf. (The. restaurant includes buffalo sausage on the menu.)
Excavations of the Wanuskewin site began in the early 1930s. The archeological remains include a curious boulder alignment (better known as a medicine wheel), tipi rings, and stone cairns.