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Vance Mcnab: Grandson Carries On Dream

Vance McNab
Vance McNab

Vance McNab, 31, of the Gordon Band is currently Director of Visitor Services at Wanuskewin Heritage Park, near Saskatoon. The eldest grandson of the late Hilliard McNab CM, Vance is carrying on a dream of his grandfather's by helping to educate all people about the rich heritage of the Indian people of this province. The Park showcases the past lifeways of Indian people, a past dating back at least six thousand years.

"My involvement began when my grandfather asked me to attend some of the Park's early Planning and Development Committee meetings on his behalf. It was an honour for me to represent him in a project that he felt was very important for both Indian and non-Indian people."

Vance later became involved with the excavation side of Wanuskewin, while at University. He spent the summer of 1988 excavating at a habitation site called Red Tail Creek. The following year he worked as an interpreter, conducting tours of the area, interpreting the many archaeological sites as well as the natural history. In the summer of 1990 he worked with both the interpretation and resource management sides of Wanuskewin as Project Supervisor for their summer program. After convocating in the spring of 1991, he worked as an interpreter through the summer, a job that led to his current position as Director of Visitor Services.

"It was my grandfather's wish that I continue to be involved with the project, so I'm happy to be working towards that goal that was formed back in the Park's early growing stages, when he was first involved." The late Senator Hilliard McNab was always ready to discuss the importance of education, as well as the importance of cultures working together. Since education is one of Wanuskewin's central themes and the participation of different cultures has underlain the Park's overall development, Vance is definitely in a position to carry on the vision of a better understanding between cultures beginning at Wanuskewin.

Wanuskewin is a National Heritage Site, designated as such in 1986. In 1987, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited the site and unveiled a dedication placque in honour of that distinction. At this time Wanuskewin is in the process of applying for International Heritage Site status through UNESCO. There is no doubt that the site will reach new levels of awareness even on the international scene.

Wanuskewin is a special place; a place where Indian people have been gathering for the last 6,000 years. The people came there to hunt and to camp in the shelter of the small valley by the river. The evidence of their presence can be sifted from the earth that has buried their campsites and buffalo kill sites.

Vance Mcnab: Grandson Carries On Dream


The park area is about 120 hectares that encloses no less than 19 pre-contact archaeological sites. These sites include both summer and winter campsites, four bison kill sites, and a boulder alignment called a Medicine Wheel. Part of the uniqueness of Wanuskewin is the concentration of these sites. Almost every archaeological site common to the Northern Plains can be found within the Park boundaries. This in itself is a unique feature. Experts say that any one of the Park's sites rates as an outstanding archaeological deposit. Having them situated 15 minutes from the downtown of a major urban centre is another plus in terms of access for visitors. This describes the physical aspects of the park, which is a major part of Wanuskewin. But the potential doesn't stop there.

The Interpretive Centre under construction presently, will provide many opportunities for people to look back in time at hunting and gathering on the Saskatchewan Plains. As you approach the Interpretive Centre, it will be as if you are being guided down a drive lane to a buffalo jump, complete with the stone cairns that make up the drive lines. As you move towards and into the building you will be accompanied by bison figures emerging from the earth. They begin as a nondescript sculpture low to the ground and end in a life-size mounted bison adjacent to a depiction of a bison trap or pound. Within this pound is a Lloyd Pinay sculpture of a Shaman or Medicine Man summoning the visitor to experience Wanuskewin. From this area you can orient yourself to the Park or enter the main exhibit area.

The main exhibit area will look at three relationships of the hunter/gatherers who inhabited this area in the past: the relationship between the people and the animals; between the people and the plants; and that between the people themselves. There will be many hands-on activities including educational computer games for the visitor to learn from. The Centre houses two theatres. The main theatre will tell the story of Wanuskewin. The second, smaller theatre will simulate an archaeological excavation pit, where the viewer becomes the archaeologist.

A concentrated spotlight highlights artifacts in the walls of the excavation pit. These are enlarged on an adjacent screen and information about them presented. As you begin to leave the main exhibit area with its representation of life on the Plains hundreds of years ago, you pass through an area referred to as "Living Culture." Here you can be brought up to date on what is happening in the Indian community today, everything from current political leaders to land entitlement. Through this information, visitors can see that there are strengths in the Plains culture that can be valued in today's world as well as yesterday's.

Another large component of the Centre is a full scale archaeological laboratory that will be run by the University of Saskatchewan. Archaeology at Wanuskewin has always been important, from the first investigations in 1930-32, through the assessment of the area by Dr. Emie Walker in 1982-83, to the present date. It is through these investigations of campsites and kill sites that it is determined what people were preparing for food and how they were obtaining it. It is this and other scientific disciplines that tell us what life may have been like thousands of years ago.

The Centre also boasts a temporary gallery where exhibits from other centres can promote their sites or cultures through short-term displays and exhibits. This represents a "changing face" of the Park such that visitors can return again and again and encounter new and different exhibitions.

Still inside the building, we have a large giftshop and a restaurant, both of which will be overseen by Wanuskewin Indian Heritage Incorporated. This is the commercial side of Wanuskewin where, in the giftshop handicrafts and arts obtained locally and throughout Saskatchewan will be sold. The restaurant can become a distinction for dining, a "new flavour", where bison steak rates high on the menu. The revenues realized from these operations will be used for their continued growth and maintenance. In some respects Wanuskewin has two sides; the commercial, to enable the Park to keep operating, and the Spiritual side, where even if Wanuskewin did not exist as it does today, the special nature of the place would endure as it has for centuries.

Outdoors, the Park can offer special performances in the amphitheatre, which has seating for 400 and expandable seating for another 400. Powwows, musical artists' performances and special performances by local theatre groups might be held here.

An "Outdoor activity area" at the start of a system of walking trails will provide the opportunity for presenting Plains culture skills such as hide-tanning demonstrations. This area will also show the changes in living structures, for example, how tipis may have looked before the horse arrived on the Plains. Another highlight on the trail system will be an archaeological tent where visitors can see archaeologists at work. Here people will be able to follow the step by step progression of an excavation and the processing of artifacts.

Throughout the Park, Indian people will be involved in various capacities and this stems from the fact that Indians

Vance Mcnab: Grandson Carries On Dream


have been involved from the beginning of this development. There are two groups responsible for the development and direction of Wanuskewin Heritage Park. These are the Wanuskewin Heritage Park Board (WHP) and the Wanuskewin Indian Heritage Incorporated (WIHI). The WHP Board has representatives from both the Federal and Provincial governments, the City of Saskatoon, the University of Saskatchewan, the Meewasin Valley Authority, and the WIHI Board The WIM Board has been the policy maker for Wanuskewin. This group began as the Planning and Development Committee. It has representatives from all seven Indian Districts and all five language groups within the Province. These Indian leaders have been and will continue to be the guiding hand for the Park's development and growth. Their influence can be seen in the design of the Interpretive Centre itself. WIHI is an inseparable component of Wanuskewin's history and will continue as such in the future. The WIHI group is a major force in the cooperative nature of the Park's overall growth. The cooperation between Indian and non-Indian portions of this project can act as a model for similar developments elsewhere. It represents the cross-cultural information exchange and sharing that is required to bring a project in the scope of Wanuskewin to the fore. It is fitting that a similar cooperative effort, essential in a successful buffalo hunt, is reflected by the people who want to interpret that communal effort. It reflects the essence of the site, a sense of coming together, to share in living and learning in harmony.

There are at least four broad areas where Wanuskewin can focus: these are education, culture, science, and tourism. There are connections between these, however, and all will work to increase awareness and understanding of Northern Plains culture. People will come to know that Saskatchewan has at least 6,000 years of history to learn about and be proud of.

When the Park opens in June of 1992, a seemingly simple walk out on the trails, where you can feel the wind, smell the balsam poplar and hear the birds call is more like what Wanuskewin is all about. To try to understand the environment and how you fit into that environment. There are valuable things to be learned from a people that left barely a mark on the surface of the earth on which they lived for thousands of years.