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Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site

The summer is a great time for touring around the countryside, and within Alberta there is a lot on offer for those just want to do day trips or make a whole week out of the fun.
18 HSG - Head Smashed In

Families will particularly enjoy what is on offer at the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, (HSIBJ) with hiking, tours and a lot to learn about the Indigenous peoples of the land that still live here, and their ancient history dating back thousands of years.

HSIBJ is a site that had been in use by the peoples of the North American Plains, dating back almost 6,000 years in their ritual hunting practices that helped sustain the people for millennia. In 1981, due to its historic significance, the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated it a world heritage site, so that it may be preserved for current and future generations to get a glimpse at the life and ingenuity of the Indigenous peoples of North America.

HSIBJ was used by several tribes often referred to as The Blackfoot as a whole: the Siksika (Blackfoot proper), the Kainai (Bloods), and the Piikani (Peigan). Although the Blackfoot were known to be fiercely independent, all three tribes spoke the same language, had similar customs and considered themselves to be allies. By understanding the bison’s migratory patterns throughout the year, and their herd mentality and tactics, they were able to lure the bison into stampedes that would lead them over the cliffs of the jumps, then prepare the meat for consumption. If done in the fall, they would dry the meat for winter use. More detailed descriptions of buffalo jumps are available from the HSIBJ Information Guide.

At the HSIBJ you will be able to enjoy the interpretive centre which includes five levels that will guide you through the history and importance of the site. You’ll learn about the ecology of the area throughout history, the lifestyle of the Plains peoples, detailed descriptions of the use of buffalo jump sites such as the HSIBJ, a 10 minute film titled “In Search of the Buffalo” where the Iniskim ceremony is depicted and local Blackfoot re-enact a buffalo drive and activities surrounding the jump, the introduction of European trade and its influence and destruction of the local way of life, and finally a presentation about the archaeological program at HSIBJ. Outside, you can get closer to the HSIBJ with a hike along a trail at the base of the cliff, as well as a short hike of the upper trail. Expect the tour to take about two hours.

The HSIBJ site is a wonder to behold, with a lot of history and amazing activities during the summer. Free public programs are available in the summer for visitors to enjoy at any time, for any age. If you are interested in the summer programs, visit https://headsmashedin.ca/programs-experiences. HSIBJ is wheelchair accessible except for the lower trail. As well, Indigenous-themed food including buffalo is available at the Buffalo Jump Cafe (no outside food allowed in the cafeteria.)

For more information visit: https://headsmashedin.ca/.

Will Porter is a freelance writer and a contributor to Great West Media. This story was written for the Hot Summer Guide advertising feature. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff.