December 2, 2016
By Naomi Witherick
Before hotels and ski hills, the Canadian Rockies were known, loved and lived in by First Nations. Frozen lakes were their hunting ground, snowy foothills their home. Connect with the mountains like the first inhabitants with wintery walks that resonate Aboriginal heritage.
Indigenous people have traversed Canadian landscapes for centuries. From Inuit nations in the north to the Plains tribes in southern Alberta, each had their own beliefs and traditions that are still alive.
Many First Nations practices centered on a profound relationship with nature and in the Canadian Rockies, that relationship was with the lofty mountains and pristine lakes that continue to draw visitors today.
“The First Nations knew the land before anyone else,” notes Buffalo Nations Museum director Gloria Cowley. “Why did they first come here? For sustenance and the beauty.”
The Stoney Nakoda (Iyarhe Nakoda) were the original “people of the mountains” who resided in the Bow and Kananaskis river valleys. Discover their lifestyles in the fort-like Buffalo Nations Museum, that also features Cree and Blackfoot exhibits. History comes alive with life-size models, ancient artifacts and an interpretive displays.
In Jasper, the Sekani, Beaver and Woodland Cree were among the nations that circulated through the Athabasca Valley in the 1700s. Some groups were displaced by the arrival of European fur traders in the 1800s. Uncover the story in Jasper-Yellowhead Museum’s Historical Gallery where you’ll find exhibits on the fur trade, railway and early explorers.
After an education in the museums, get out and experience Aboriginal life-ways for yourself. There are loads of ways to connect with native heritage in the Canadian Rockies. Start by making first tracks through stunning backcountry on a snowshoeing adventure.
Indigenous people were well adapted to gruelling mountain winters. When travelling over snowy terrain, First Nations had their cleverly crafted snowshoes at hand (well, foot). Used by most indigenous Canadians, early shoe frames were made of wood, with deer, caribou or moose hide lacing. By finding a way to walk on top of snow, they reaffirmed their tradition of living in harmony with nature.
Get a feel for the journey on a snowshoeing tour with White Mountain Adventures. Their local guides have up to 25 years’ experience and share stories of early mountain dwellers while you walk. On their Snowshoeing on Top of the World Tour track untouched powder in the epic backcountry behind Sunshine Village, with stunning alpine views from the 2,180-m height of the Continental Divide, the border between Alberta and British Columbia.
Or lift off with Rockies Heli Canada for a 20-minute helicopter ride above Kananaskis Country that touches down at a snowshoeing trail through a winter wonderland setting.
>> For more age old adventures read our digital magazine. More online features to come.