Amiskwaciwâskahikan (ᐊᒥᐢᑲᐧᒋᐋᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ ): The land as history
by Dylan Thompson
Before there was Edmonton, there was Amiskwaciwâskahikan (ᐊᒥᐢᑲᐧᒋᐋᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ), or Beaver Hills Lodge. It encompasses the traditional territories of numerous Indigenous Peoples in Canada, including Cree, Saulteaux, Blackfoot, Métis, and Nakota Sioux. In 1876, a treaty was signed between the Crown and various Indigenous tribes and groups, forming what’s known as Treaty 6 Territory across most of central Alberta and Saskatchewan. While it’s part of a long history that too few people know, initiatives like National Indigenous History Month (which has taken place for the month of June since 2009) open an invitation for everyone to discover and celebrate the First Peoples of this land.
Indigenous Elders teach that their people have a deep, spiritual connection to the land. In fact, some Nations believe that their people and the land are one and the same, linked in an interdependent circle. It seems appropriate—and particularly welcome, considering recent health regulations—to experience the land first-hand.
1) Located atop the Riverview Room of the Edmonton Convention Centre, the Community Medicine Wheel Garden was built under the guidance of Cree Elder Francis Whiskeyjack and is filled with local flora that were used as medicines and in ceremonies for generations. The garden itself is built in the shape of the medicine wheel, a significant symbol in many Indigenous cultures.
2) Further east, in Louise McKinney Park, the Turtle Rock Effigy Labyrinth symbolically unites Indigenous and European cultures with a Celtic-style labyrinth atop an Indigenous-style turtle effigy. Visitors are meant to enter the labyrinth with a problem in mind and find a solution walking along the labyrinth path.
3) South of the North Saskatchewan River, in Queen Elizabeth Park, ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11∞ is home to the Indigenous Art Park, which features public artworks from six artists from across Canada. Each artist was invited to create work that would tell the story of this land.
4) Follow in the footsteps of the nomadic tribes of the Western Plains with a beautiful day trip 48 km east of Edmonton’s city centre to Elk Island National Park. The Wahkotowin Visitor Information Centre has items from local Indigenous creators, and you can view a traditional bison-hide star blanket. The park is also home to herds of bison, which have long played a vital role in local Indigenous cultures.
5) Back in Edmonton, you can get a curated glimpse of daily life on the prairie in the Human History Hall of the Royal Alberta Museum. The museum is also currently home to Manitou Asinîy, a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite made of pure iron, believed to hold great spiritual power. It’s held in its own space on the second floor where visitors are encouraged to participate in quiet reflection and discussion.
6) The Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society (11648-85 St.) hosts programs and cultural events throughout the year that are open to everyone. You can create arts and crafts, listen to stories, enjoy the rhythmic sounds and flashy colours of powwow drummers and dancers, and play traditional games. They’re great environments for families to learn and have fun, and are also an incredible local resource.
This article first appeared in the 2021 InfoEdmonton City Guide. You can find even more information on local Indigenous attractions in the digital issue.