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Centennial event celebrates history of Cypress Hills.

For thousands of years, the Cypress Hills in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan have been a gathering place for Aboriginal people. On June 18, the area will again be a place to gather, as Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park plays host to History in the Hills.


The annual event, organized by the Miywasin Society of Aboriginal Services in Medicine Hat, is a celebration of the rich history of the Cypress Hills area, and of the culture and heritage of the Aboriginal groups that have a strong connection to this sacred place.

"We're trying to re-enact what happened in the hills in approximately 1850 to the 1900s," said Amy Connochie, cultural co-ordinator with the Miywasin Society. People will be dressed in authentic clothes from the period and will re-enact events that may have occurred all those years ago. It's what makes the event so unique, she said.

"This is a place, it's a historical gathering spot for a lot of different Aboriginal groups, so it's kind of cool because to some of them it was a very sacred spot, the Cypress Hills," she said, adding that archeological digs in the area have discovered evidence that the Blackfoot have gathered in the area for at least 8,000 years.

"So we're doing this at an historical spot, for not only the Blackfoot, but the Crees and the Metis. And we're hoping next year to include the Lakota group and the Assiniboia, you know, the people who would have used that area traditionally."

By using a site with such a long history for a modern-day gathering, Connochie sees History in the Hills as not only a celebration of the past, but as a way to link that past to the present.

"We try to emphasize that the past did happen and we're recognizing it, but we're still using this spot today, and we're planning to continue to use this spot in the future, maybe for not only History in the Hills events, but for educating kids on 'This was a Blackfoot dig, and what the Blackfoot people did, and this is what we're continuing to do with Aboriginal education out there.' And I think that's really important."

Various venues will be arranged in a circle around the site, literally surrounding visitors to History in the Hills with the sights and sounds of the event. Participants can learn to jig, sample fry bread, play traditional Native games, watch a hide tanning demonstration and take part in a round dance.

A Metis culture and history campsite venue will be set up for the event, with Miywasin staff and Metis Elders serving as interpreters. Dressed in traditional Metis garb, they will give visitors a taste of the traditional Metis way of life, complete with fiddle music and lessons in how to do the Red River Jig.

Miywasin staff will also act as interpreters at another venue, the bannock making tipi and hide tanning display, where visitors can watch fry bread being made over an open fire, then sample the finished product. A hide tanning display will be set up next to the bannock making demonstration, allowing visitors a chance to learn about the stages involved in tanning a hide.

One venue will feature championship hoop dancer Dallas Arcand talking about the Cree culture of yesterday and today. Another venue will give participants a chance to check out an archaeological dig site, learning from interpreters from the University of Calgary about the artifacts that have been uncovered and how they will be preserved.

Staff from the First Nations, Metis, Inuit Education Program will also be on hand for the event. Vince Steinhauer, a member of the faculty of Blue Quills College, will teach visitors how to make a drum and share some stories and songs.

Staff from area parks and heritage sites will also be providing their services as interpreters during History in the Hills. Staff from Writing on Stone Provincial Park and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump will be talking to visitors about the traditional Blackfoot way of life and the history of the Blackfoot people in the Cypress Hills area, while staff from Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park will talk about the unique plants and animals found in the hills and of the importance of protecting them, and about what Aboriginal people are doing to preserve the environment.

Staff from Fort Walsh National Historic Site will set up a recreation of a North West Mounted Police (NWMP) patrol camp and will talk about the duties of the NWMP and the challenges they faced in policing the west.

Events on Saturday, June 18 run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. A tipi raising will take place at 10 a.m., with bannock making at noon. Native games for children and families will go at 2 p.m., followed at 3 p.m. by the event finale, which will feature traditional entertainment.

While Saturday is the only day venues and events are open to the public, History in the Hills is actually a four-day event, running from June 15 to 18. The first three days are held for school groups to come and experience what life in the Cypress Hills might have been like a century ago. As well, on the Friday, a special Aboriginal feast is planned for invited guests. Metis Nation of Alberta President Audrey Poitras and Metis National Council President Clem Chartier are among the dignitaries expected to attend.

History in the Hills got its start three years ago as a Native Awareness Week activity for students, co-ordinated by the Miywasin Society in partnership with Medicine Hat School District No. 76.

History in the Hills takes place adjacent to the Stampede Archaeology Site and Elkwater Rodeo Grounds on the Alberta side of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. For more information about the event call the Miywasin Society at (403) 526-0756 or Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park at (403) 893-3833. You can also get more information on the Miywasin Society Web site at or the park Web site at


Windspeaker Staff Writer
COPYRIGHT 2005 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:All My Relations
Author:Petten, Cheryl
Publication:Wind Speaker
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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