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Wanuskewin: A Walk Through Wanuskewin

Theresa Hohne, Park Interpreter

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1994      v23 n04 p14  
What will you encounter when you visit Wanuskewin? Let's take a look. Upon arrival, you will experience the bison hunt as you pass through a series of stone calms which format the drive lane. Inside, two lifesize mounted bison walk with you towards the culmination of the hunt. A bison pound awaits you and the animals and a Shaman (Medicine Man) beckon you to come and experience Wanuskewin.

Wanuskewin is a special place
because our shared experiences brings us
closer to Mother Earth, to other
Peoples, to ourselves, and to the Creator.

The gift shop and temporary exhibit hall spaces are to the left of the bison pound. The gift shop features high quality, crafted items produced by the First Peoples. Some of these products will include leather goods, jewellery, paintings and ceramics. The temporary exhibit hall space is highly suited for travelling art exhibitions of all forms and dimensions.

The restaurant features a dining experience unique in itself. The traditional North American menu focuses on bison prepared many ways from stews and burgers to barbecued steaks. Bannock, wild rice. and Saskatoon berry pie are some of the dishes sure to complement the menu.

The main exhibit hall is the focal point of the building. You will experience three stories as you walk through the hall. They are the relationships between the First Peoples and the plant and animal worlds and the Peoples' relationships to themselves and their communities. The emphasis of the hall is to utilize your senses other than vision to experience these unique relationships. Lighting, theatrical scrims, projections and a soundscape all add to the experience. The hall's internal environment is totally control led so during a visit, birds will awaken your senses or an afternoons thunderstorm will roll across the skies. As you walk along the path, you will be able to learn about dried plant materials used for food or medicines: You can touch coyote and deer or see eagle airborne above you. As you approach the First Peoples world, four bison-hide tipis greet your senses. You will see the bone and stone tools created in the flint-knapper's tipi or take a peek into the residential tipi where families slept and dreamed. The visitors will encounter educational computer games which will further enhance the learning experience. Imagine being part of a successful bison hunt and preparing for the feast!

There are two theatres in the building. The main theatre, located near the entrance to the exhibit hall has seating for 80 people and features a 15 minute multi-projector slide show looking at the history of the site. A small archaeological theatre with seating for 20 people is representative of an excavation pit and encourages the visitors to become archaeologists as they watch the slide show. As you come out of the main exhibit hall, you enter archaeology at Wanuskewin. The University of Saskatchewan operates the major archaeological laboratory providing valuable space for ongoing research. A large viewing window allows you to watch the archaeologists busily cleaning or identifying artifacts. Information drawers extending out of the lab allow you to learn more about the archaeologist's world. The lab area is also equipped with a duration area and a graphics and wet lab.

As you leave the archaeological section you head into the last section of the main exhibit hall called the Living Culture area. We do not want people to leave with only a sense of the past but to understand and appreciate the present day diversity and vibrancy of the First Peoples and to look towards the future. Maps, showing the distribution of First Peoples, locations of reserve lands, and the details of the treaties cover the walls. Past and present political leader's words of wisdom jump out at the reader. This section strives to update the visitor and current sociopolitical concerns will be expressed from land entitlement to the growing concern for for environment.

A large topographical model located in front of the buffalo pound details the four trail walking stem. Before you venture onto the main trail, to your immediate left lies the amphitheatre. With seating for up to 800 people this area is highly suited for outdoor gatherings of various sizes. Traditional and contemporary theatre, dancers and singers from local to international groups, will fill the air with celebration.

The main trail, the path of the People provides a base for the system with the other three trails circulating off this one. The interpretive story focuses on the everyday lives of the First Peoples living in the valley and on the prairie. The Outdoor Activity Area is located on the main trail in a coulee just North of the centre. This area looks at three different styles of housing over the last 8,000 years. You will see the changes the horse brought about when it arrived on the Plains in the mid 1700's. Craft demonstrations will take place here such as trail use, outdoor cooking hide preparation, bead work and willow basketry.

The Trail of Discovery leads North off the main trail. This trail focuses on the science of archaeology and what it tells us about the lifeways of the First Peoples. This summer the archaeologists are excavating the Thundercloud camp site located on this trail.

The visitors can experience archaeology and share in the excitement of daily discoveries. A dig tent lies adjacent to the excavation with artifacts being displayed and up-to-date information being provided to the general public.

The Trail of the Buffalo heads up onto the East prairie and offers people a magnificent view of the land and the river. Down below, where the creek meets the river, you can imagine the firelit camps, hear the children playing, dogs barking and smell the evening meal the women are busily preparing. The experience of this trail is the interpretive story. The Circle of Harmony begins in the valley and heads onto the South prairie and leads you to the circles of the tipi rings and to the Medicine Wheel site. The importance of the circle and respect for Mother Earth are two of the stories being told here. Along the trails, encampments will represent different time periods and will encourage people to imagine living on this land hundreds or thousands of years ago. Benches and appropriate signage further complement the visitor's outdoor experience.

The interpretive program tells five major stories: hunting, gathering, social life ways, archaeology and reconnection. These interrelated stories and their subthemes are oriented around the four seasons. The program settings include the archaeology tent, the amphitheatre, the outdoor activity area and the trails themselves. We want the visitors to relate their positive experiences with family and friends and to come away from Wanuskewin feeling enriched and knowing there is still more to learn and experience through future visits to Wanuskewin.

Wanuskewin offers a variety of experiences to the visitor. You can watch the archaeologists hard at work in the lab or out in the field. You can learn how to harness up the travois to the dogs for the next camp move. You can take leisurely walks where the bison once stood and smell the sage growing at your feet. How about a bison burger and fries out on the patio while you enjoy the mid- afternoon sun? Whatever your choices, Wanuskewin is a special place because our shared experiences brings us closer to Mother Earth, to other Peoples, to ourselves, and to the Creator. Come, join us in celebration and be part of this special place.

Theresa Hohne
Park Interpreter