Meet our Organizers: Quinton of the Piikani Nation

Culture Days – February 7, 2020

Looking back on the 2019 celebrations, we want to highlight some exceptional organizers who help make the Culture Days weekend what it is across Canada. As the Special Events and Marketing Coordinator for the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, AB, Quinton Crow Shoe spends a lot of his time promoting and protecting this special place. He has a passion for building awareness and pride in First Nations people and creating a better understanding for all. Here’s what Quinton shared with us about the buffalo jump and his experience with Culture Days.

My Name is Quinton Crow Shoe; I am a member of the Piikani, Blackfoot Nation.

My community, the Piikani Nation, also known as the hamlet of Brocket, is situated in the Southwestern corner of the Province of Alberta, one of four communities that make up the Blackfoot confederacy. We are at the base of the foothills where the prairies meet the mountains.

I come from a very traditional family with strong roots to our past as Blackfoot people. The ancient way of life of our ancestors was instilled in me as a young boy. My parents and grandparents ensured that all of their children had a strong sense of identity.

I have four children, three daughters and one son. I have eight grandchildren.

I love sports, travelling, and spending quality time with family.

I have strong ties to the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. My grandfather was instrumental in the development of the site, the story line, and the facility; so much so that they named a room within the facility in his honour, the Joe Crow Shoe Sr. Lodge, a multi-functional room here at the Interpretive Center.

This site was used as a place to gather food and sustenance for thousands of years. This particular Buffalo Jump was one of the most used, deepest, and best preserved of all buffalo jumps across the North Western Plains. Along with other designations, the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. The Interpretive Center opened on July 23, 1987. Since then we have had close to 3 million people from all over the world come through our doors. Many of our guests arrive to the site in recreational vehicles, motor coaches, motor cycles, and bicycles.

The surrounding area consists of all the necessary ingredients to have a successful communal hunt. Starting with the campsite along the old man river, where the people would camp nestled in the trees along the river with access to water, wood, and good shelter. Then we have the Vision Quest hill where the warriors would look out for the buffalo and prepare spiritually for the upcoming communal hunt. The Gathering Basin, located west of the Buffalo Jump, is a basin-shaped area within the rolling prairies with an abundance of fresh grass. The buffalo would gather here and bed down as a herd. It is here where the buffalo would be carefully herded into the man-made Drive Lanes, rock cairns that form a V-shaped drive lane toward the cliff. The buffalo are stampeded near the end of these drive lanes and sent over the cliff. Below the cliff is the Kill Site. This is where the buffalo are piled up and prepared to be dragged to the butchering site. The Butchering Site, located on the lower level plain away from the kill site, is where the buffalo are processed.

Archaeologists have carried out several digs here and through their findings, along with stories from the Blackfoot elders, have dated this site back more than 6,000 years—older than the Pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge. Today this site is still a sacred site to all Blackfoot people, a site where our knowledge keepers can come and make connection with creator, gather medicines, and pray.

Because of the UNESCO designation, the Interpretive Center is built beneath the cliff. From the outside, you can only see 10% of the facility. The cement structures are designed to suit the sandstone cliffs. There is minimal disruption to the landscape.

To increase visitors’ understanding of this site and to help them increase their experience, we have designed special events throughout the year, including Culture Days held in late September each year. In the peak summer season visitors can take in some of the finest drummers and dancers from within the Blackfoot territories. Every Wednesday throughout July and August we hold a free drumming and dancing event out on the plaza in front of the interpretive center. This is a great learning opportunity for our guests. Along with taking photos, visitors can interact with our performers after the performances.

For the hiking enthusiasts, starting mid-May each year, our Blackfoot guides take visitors on a hike to the back country. The hike takes place every second Saturday of the month. Visitors can see, feel, and learn details of the ancient communal hunt.

If you are in a group, you can engage a Blackfoot guide. The Blackfoot guide will take you on a tour of the facility. A tour usually lasts around 1.5 – 2 hours. Hear stories and learn how the great mighty buffalo were herded up and drove over the sandstone cliffs.

Throughout the year we host many school groups and students of all ages. We have designed education programs that school groups can enjoy and learn from.

The Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Center has become a great place for people from all walks of life to come and learn. For our own local Blackfoot people this site continues to contribute to our well-being as Blackfoot people. The site employs local Blackfoot people as employees, artisans, performers and storytellers. The young indigenous folk develop a great sense of pride and an eagerness to learn more. Over the years, this site has broken down barriers and created a better understanding and dialogue amongst indigenous and non-indigenous people. This in itself will help us move forward in harmony as Canadian citizens.

Photos courtesy of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.