Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump: Fun First Nations History

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In southern Alberta, just an hour's drive north of the US border is a fantastic history museum called Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.  As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is a must-see if you are in the area, and is well worth the drive if you are even in the areas of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park or Calgary, Alberta.  

display of buffalo skulls in interpretive centerThe Buffalo Jump is one of many that were used by First Nations and Native American tribes in this part of the world.  We learned that when conditions were favorable for hunting the entire community worked together quickly to make preparations.  When the hunt began, buffalo were driven in a stampede over the edge of the twenty meter sandstone cliff to their deaths below.  What makes Head-Smashed-In unique is that it was such a great location it was used for over a thousand years and thus became a rather important site for archaeological study.  In fact, the pile of buffalo bones at the bottom of the cliff is so thick that the cliff is now only ten meters high.  

Inside the interpretive center you will find many exhibits pertaining not only to the process of the buffalo hunt, but also the way of life of the Blackfeet, Piegan and Blood tribes.  There are displays and films explaining the daily life of the people, the importance of the buffalo hunt, and treaties signed between native tribes and European settlers.  The exhibits are geared to the interest of children and adults alike.  Our children particularly enjoyed the nine-minute animation about Napi, the creator god and their journey through the seasons of the year.  

We visited on a Wednesday morning and were treated to a wonderful recreation of a tribal "pow-wow."  Native Blackfeet men and women performed dances of all kinds in traditional costume.  The dances were explained by a narrator and a blessing was given by a tribal elder at the start.  The dances, costumes, and music were colorful and exciting, holding our kids' attention for the whole presentation.

Napi, the creator god, animation videoTaking the stairs or elevator leads to an outdoor paved walkway and the overlook of the sandstone cliff from which the buffalo jumped.  There is also an unpaved walking trail below the cliff, but visitors must stay on the path and cannot travel beyond the overlook platform in order to respect the sacred ceremonial sites of the native tribes.  The viewing platform above provides a great vantage point of the prairie below.  A telescope is provided for better viewing and at the time of our visit there was an interpreter available to answer visitors' questions.  There are also several signs explaining what can be seen from the platform and the significance of such areas.  

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump ranks as one of the best historical and cultural centers for kids and adults alike that we have visited.  You will also find a cafe and picnic grounds (in the overflow parking area).  Allow at least two to three hours to thouroughly enjoy yoru time here.  

display of buffalo skulls in interpretive center
Napi, the creator god, animation video
inside the interpretive center
tribal dance presentation
walkway to the overlook platform
picture arrangement game in the interpretive center
viewing telescope at the overlook
Article Type: 
In-Person Impressions


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