The province of Alberta includes some of Canada’s most iconic sights, Banff and Jasper national parks among them. The soaring peaks and geological wonders offer iconic postcard views, but the province’s riches are cultural as well, and start with its First Nations and their long histories. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Fort Macleod, was used by Plains hunters for some 6,000 years.
Woods Cree, Beaver, and Chipweyan were predominant in the north when the first European settlers arrived, while the Plains Cree lived in central Alberta. In the southern part of what would one day become the province, the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Stoney-Nakoda people were the major Indigenous groups.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Stoney-Nakoda were famous and invaluable as guides, to explorers and surveyors. Today, they continue to help visitors to Alberta explore and understand this part of Canada. For travelers interested in learning more about the Stoney-Nakoda people—their culture, history, and beliefs—here are three places to start.
On a walk through the rugged wilderness of the Canadian Rockies with Mahikan Trails, you can learn how the First Nations of southern Alberta foraged for plants and other natural ingredients that were essential for seasonal tonics, cold remedies, and other compounds. Many are still used today by Indigenous peoples across the region. Mahikan Trails, the tour operator, tailors its seasonal walks to the season and which ingredients are ready to be harvested. You may end the day with recipes for everything from convalescing tonics to moisturizing body butters—as well as the knowledge to identify five to ten plants commonly used in traditional medicines.
Make Your Own Medicine Bag
In addition to leading medicine walks and offering longer two-day courses on making traditional medicines using wild herbs and fruits, Mahikan Trails offers craft classes on beading, sewing moccasins, and making medicine bags. You’ll learn how to create and cut a pattern, bead embroidery, and sewing techniques. The class also explains the cultural significance of medicine bags that were designed to hold sacred objects of spiritual importance to their wearer.
Stoney-Nakoda Resort and Casino
Located just 30 minutes west of Calgary in Kananaskis Country, Stoney-Nakoda Resort and Casino is an ideal home base for a weekend getaway exploring the Canadian Rockies—or to simply spend a weekend of leisure surrounded by stunning mountain views. Resort amenities are plentiful and include daily breakfast, complimentary Wi-Fi, a family-friendly pool area, spacious rooms and suites, and an on-site casino. One tip: Stoney Nakoda offers a number of different packages throughout the year, each with some pretty sweet perks for families, couples, and both outdoor and gambling enthusiasts, so check the latest offers before you book.
The resort is also a 30-minute drive from Banff National Park where, in the early 20th century, Stoney-Nakoda guides were often relied upon by visitors, renowned for their expertise at navigating the park’s formidable, if breathtaking, terrain. While the Stoney-Nakoda were forced to move out of the park when it was established, in 2010, Parks Canada officially welcomed the Stoney-Nakoda people back to Canada’s oldest park.
Learn more about First Nations highlights in Alberta at the website.