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World-class buffalo jump site celebrates 25 years
Pat Ness remembers when the interpretive centre opened its doors at the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump site. She has been employed there for one-quarter of a century.
“August 23, 1987, was the first day I made the long walk up that pathway,” recalled Ness, of the trek she took exactly one month after the centre began operations.
Ness currently serves as temporary office administrator.
The centre celebrated its 25th anniversary on July 25. Dignitaries from the Blackfoot Confederacy, provincial government, and United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization were in attendance.
“It’s a significant milestone,” said Quinton Crow Shoe, site marketing and events coordinator. “We have 25 years under our belt and many more in front of us. We would like to commend the folks from the ‘70s and ‘80s who recognized the importance of this site and put in all the work to have Head-Smashed-In designated a heritage site.”
In 1981, UNESCO designated HSIBJ as a World Heritage Site, marking it as one of the world’s oldest, largest and best-preserved buffalo jump sites. The archaeological site preserved the customs practiced by the First Nations people of the North American plains for nearly 6,000 years.
The interpretive centre opened its doors in 1987 with much ceremony and included the Duke and Duchess of York in attendance.
“It’s been an awesome place to work,” said Ness. “The whole world comes to visit me here… There are always new ideas coming around (and) new people. We’re constantly in motion.”
Since the centre began operation, more than 2.5 million people from all over the world have visited.
Most of the staff at HSIBJ is First Nation with many coming from the nearby Piikani and Kainai tribes. The hands-on involvement of the First Nations, both in developing programs and providing interpretive services, has led to the Canadian Tourism Commission recognizing HSIBJ as a Signature Experience. That recognition marks the site for its “high level of authentic experiential programming opportunities for visitors to learn more about the ancient buffalo hunting culture.”
“We’re just lucky to be working here today,” said Crow Shoe.
The interpretive centre is located in the Alberta foothills approximately 18 km northwest of Fort Macleod. It is open year round, with reduced hours from Labour Day to May 15.
The centre highlights Native culture, history and mechanics of a buffalo jump. It includes a cliff top trail, buffalo culture display, artifact exhibits and theatre presentations. July and August visitors can take in daily live drumming and dancing performances.
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