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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Day 44: Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Just twenty or so kilometers from Fort Macleod we stumbled upon Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump on our route north from Waterton. The site sits in a remote but beautiful spot. We were met by guide Little Leaf as we entered the exhibition building. Built into the cliffside and housing a significant display of buffalo hunting artifacts interspersed with movie re-enactments of this most famous of buffalo jumps, Little Leaf quickly cleared up a touch of confusion as he posed alongside an imposing stuffed buffalo: bison and buffalo, we learned, are the self-same beast, though neither of these colonizers' names means anything much to First Nations folks themselves.

As for the jump itself, this was a First Nations technique of bringing in a good haul of buffalo meat and hides to see the community through the long cold winter. Consisting of driving an entire herd over a cliff from the grazing grounds above, it was a technique that demanded considerable planning and patience and athleticism and courage on the part of the buffalo drivers and runners, not to mention a huge amount of toil on the part of the rest of the tribe when it came to butchering the spoils and preparing the hides at the nearby encampment.

By the time you reach the actual jump site outside, you feel that you have become pretty well educated as to the ins and outs of the kill. A slight disappointment was that so little of First Nation women's part in the whole production was featured or even discussed...When you cross Canada going either east or west, the vast majority of historical sites pay tribute to the great feats of men (so what else is new?) and you really have to dig deep to find out what the women were up to. The Buffalo Jump is no exception - yet another example of his-story.

Perhaps we had just reached the breaking point with regard to this particular issue when we hit Head-Smashed-In...Whatever, a pleasant surprise awaited us as, somewhat disillusioned by just one too many tributes to daring-do men, we pulled into a little town on highway 2 into Calgary called Claresholm at the end of day 44.