"Our land is not just geography, our land is our mother." –Narcisse Blood
Oki. Welcome to Writing-On-Stone (Áísínai’pi). Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is located approximately 100 kilometres southeast of Lethbridge, Alberta. It is one of the largest areas of protected prairie in the Alberta park system and serves as both a nature preserve and a protective site for a large number of Native petroglyphs. As you walk through the park you will find Brown-Eyed-Susans, Sagebrush, and Louisiana Sage Wort.
The Blackfoot people call Louisiana Sage Wort "Man Sage." You will find a lot of Man Sage on the prairie and on dry open soils. There are seven kinds of sage, each with a different use. Adam Delaney says that if you hold the leaves in front of your nose and mouth during a sweat it helps you breathe in the hot air. He said the sage has a kind of menthol action. In a sweat, hold the sage on the sore part of your body and it will feel better. Wait for the elder in the sweat to tell you when to put it on the sore part.
As you walk through the park Narcisse Blood and Park Interpreter Bonnie Moffat share stories with you about the petroglyphs and pictographs left behind by Blackfoot ancestors. Narcisse begins by sharing the following: "This is a very sacred site of our people. They have left messages for us on the writings. This place was honoured by our people and we hope you do the same."
Bonnie points out a horse petroglyph. The horse is a more recent image, drawn with one front leg, one back leg, and single line for the tail. A heart line, or lifeline, is also drawn on the horse representing its source of power. Only a few horses are drawn with such a line. Bonnie points out another horse petroglyph known as a boat form drawing, named such because the body is shaped like a boat. It is draw with two front legs, two back legs, and a tail curves over its back. The horse, drawn with eyes, leads some Elders to believe it is a representation of the spirits of earlier horses.
Narcisse Blood examines a petroglyph that he believes is representative of the landscape around Sweet Grass Hills. Bonnie points out a section of the image that might represent caves. There is some ochre on the image, which is easiest to view through polarized sun glasses.
Narcisse Blood points out the Thunderbird Cave. In the Thunderbird Cave are bundles left as offerings. The drawing of the Thunderbird is one of many depictions within the cave.
Narcisse Blood describes the Vision Quest site across from Writing on Stone. People have started going back there for Vision Quests and there are offerings at that site as well.
As you walk towards the shore of the Belly River at the Belly River Crossing on the Blood Reserve (west of Lethbridge near Stand Off, Alberta) you see Marvin Calfrobe sitting amongst the Saskatoon bushes and Cottonwood trees. Martin greets you with a story about Napi and the berry bushes.
There are many berry bushes in this area, including bull berries. Teacher and spiritual advisor Alvine Mountain Horse says that bull berries should be picked after the first snowfall or frost. To pick them, put a canvas under the tree and then use a stuck to knock the berries onto the canvas. This is the best way to pick bull berries because the edges of the plant can be really sharp.
Professor Gerald Oetelaar from the University of Calgary joins Marvin out on the land to share stories.
Gerald Oetelaar discusses how to best choose a place to establish a trading post. It is important to select a place where many people come, such as the old trails where people walked from one point to the next. Belly River Crossing is the shallow part of the Belly River, where people were able to cross. This helps Gerald and his wife determine where the Old North Trail used to run. Early forts were put right where the trails crossed important rivers.
Marvin Calf Robe describes where the Old North Trail used to run, all the way up to Rocky Mountain House. There are lots of water sources along the Old North Trail. On the open plains, the land is more rugged and there are fewer water sources, making it harder to travel on.
Marvin Calf Robe gives the history of Stand Off, Alberta. In around 1868-1875 the area around Stand Off was big in whiskey trade. Joe Kipp, a Mandan Indian from Fort Benton, was running from US Marshals bring whiskey over. When approached by the US Marshals at "Whiskey Gap", Kipp defended his whiskey and told them they should be ready for a fight, a "stand off." Following this event several whiskey posts were set up in this area, including the first post named "Fort Stand Off."
The Belly Buttes are located approximately 7 kilometers northeast of Stand Off, Alberta. It is a significant site for the Blackfoot people.
While visiting the buttes with Adam Delaney you begin to learn the importance of the area. Adam says that being in the buttes is like being in a church and that you need to respect it the same. When a sun dance is held in this area it is always cleaned up afterwards, but other people do not understand this and do not care properly for the site. This lack of care shows disinterest for the traditional spiritual ways.
Do you see the buffalo skull? It’s over there amongst the Lupine and Wolf Willow plants. Narcisse Blood and Alvine Mountain Horse offer a prayer in Blackfoot.
In the Belly Buttes you find Gerald Oetelaar from the University of Calgary and Marvin Calf Robe sharing stories about the importance of this site.
Gerald Oetelaar discusses the importance of Belly Buttes as a landmark. Places like Belly Buttes were used to navigate on the flat prairie. For people traveling north from the present US-Canada border, Belly Buttes was a key landmark.
Marvin Calf Robe tells the story of a powerful young healer. His child got sick and died, and as you don’t heal your own, the young healer angrily approached the Sun to question why. The Sun said that if the healer could kill one of the Sun’s buffalo, then he could ask him questions. Then, a giant buffalo came jumping over the mountains. The healer started to chase the huge buffalo with a spear. As he chased and speared the buffalo various parts of it fell off and formed several known sites across Alberta and Saskatchewan: Harry Hill, Belly Buttes, Cypress Hills (or, Blood Clot), Bull Horn, Nose Hill, Rib Buttes, Hoodoos (The Hoves), and Heart Butte. In the end, the Sun would not give him an answer as it was already determined that humans will die.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is located approximately 18 kilometers northwest of Fort Macleod, Alberta. It is recognized as one of the oldest known preserved buffalo jumps in the world and as such, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981. Plants in this region include Prickly Pear Cactus, Juniper, and Wild Rose.
At Head-Smashed-In you meet Carolla Calf Robe and Stan Knowlton, a Park Interpreter. Carolla Calf Robe shares with you that there were four tribes from the Blackfoot Confederacy who used this area. She also describes how different types of berries in the area are collected and used. Chokecherries are dried, and then stored to be used through the winter. The bark can be used for medicinal purposes. Juniper berries are used for smudging.
Stan Knowlton explains the importance of the site. There are many other jumps located in the area, but Head Smashed In is the most important. It is estimated that 85% of sites are salvage operations; sites that have been found prior to construction. Lots of cultural pieces are lost when this happens. Head Smashed In was not a salvage site, but was carefully planned.
Another buffalo jump in the area is Women’s Buffalo Jump. Joey Blood asks his father Narcisse Blood to tell the story of Women’s Buffalo Jump and outline its importance. Narcisse tells us that Napi went to Women’s Buffalo Jump. He saw how neat and clean the women’s site was, but noticed that the women did not hunt very well. The men’s site was a mess, but they hunted well. Napi thought they should be brought together, and this is how marriage began. When the women came to pick their husbands Napi offended the leader of the women. So she told all the other women not to select Napi as their husband. When Napi had no wife he stomped his feet and turned into a lone pine tree. To this day, if a man is not asked to dance by a woman, he is called a lone pine.
Welcome to "The Big Rock", Okotoks. The name "Okotoks" comes from the Blackfoot word for rock: okatok. This site is located approximately 10 kilometers from the Town of Okotoks in southern Alberta.
Before you approach the rock, Narcisse and Alvine offer a prayer in Blackfoot. Places such as this should always be treated with respect. There are Saskatoon berries, Gooseberries, white flowers- this is what we pray for, that we see things and eat these berries again.
Narcisse Blood then tells the story of Napi and the Big Rock, among others.
It was very warm, so Napi took his robe off and gave it to the rock. Then it got cold. Napi asked for his robe back, but the rock said "No, you gave it to me." Napi thought the rock would be slow to move, so he grabbed the robe and ran. The rock started chasing after Napi and as he did, he began to roll faster and faster, forming the hills and the landscape. Napi yelled for help. The birds farted on the rock and broke it into pieces, stopping the rock. When you give gifts, you give them because you care, and they cannot be taken back.
Narcisse Blood explains the difference between Writing on Stone and Okotoks. At Writing on Stone they carved into the rock, because it was sandstone. At the Big Rock, they drew in Ochre because that rock is Granite and too hard to carve images into.