On May 12th, 2016, as we were about to bring our program to a close for the year, we went to Writing on Stone Provincial Park with our Y7G youth. We wanted to take our Aboriginal youth out of their hectic urban environments, and bring them out onto the land of the Kainai Nation.
The bus ride on the way to Writing on Stone was filled with chatter and laughter, as lasting friendships had grown between the youth that had been involved in Y7G throughout the year. As we left the noisy city behind us, I knew that we would be experiencing something profoundly special. The land far to the south of Calgary was still, quiet, and hauntingly beautiful. I watched out the window as the prairie landscape unfolded before us. As we arrived at our destination, the landscape changed drastically. The river at Writing on Stone Provincial park was surrounded by hoodoo rock formations (which legend tells were once people, petrified into the landscape), sacred hills where many had gone on vision quests, and massive rock faces filled with ancestral art. Words truly cannot do justice to the beauty of this land, and as the youth filed off the bus, and gazed over it all, they could immediately see why we had driven so far to take them there. You could feel the land speak to you here, and it would tell you stories of the hundreds of ceremonies that had taken place in this sacred place.
On this trip, we were able to have an elder, Randy Bottle, come out with us and share his knowledge. The youth had already built a connection with this elder, since we had him come out to class many times to work with the youth and help them to grow as young Aboriginal leaders in the community. Randy had been to this territory numerous times and had what seemed like an infinite amount of stories to share with the youth.
Our tour guide, Camina, began by taking us to a path that wound alongside the rock faces that held the famous ancestral art of the Blackfoot people. It was incredible to behold an ancient form of communication that was still withstanding the test of time, over a thousand years later – it was as if our ancestors were sharing their stories with us right before our very eyes. Each picture told a different story, and could be interpreted many different ways by the many eyes that looked upon them. Camina pointed out a strange looking animal and asked the youth what they saw – immediately answers were being shouted out: “pig”, “deer”, “badger”, “beaver”, “buffalo”. Each student, with their unique experiences, had a unique perspective on what the ancestors were trying to communicate. All in all, these pictures all told a story of perseverance – although the rock that they were drawn upon was soft and crumbly, despite the markings of bullet holes from Mounted Police practicing their target shots when they were stationed here, and despite the modern graffiti covering the rock faces, the drawings remained for us to see. I saw this as a metaphor for the resilience of the Aboriginal people and their culture – and I saw this resilience in each and every one of my youth throughout the year as they connected with culture and learned to keep it alive in themselves so that future generations could walk down the same path.
After walking the length of just some of the rock art that was present on this land, we gathered indoors and sat in circle around our elder to hear the teachings that he wanted to offer our youth. We then went around the circle and each student spoke of their experience that day – almost all of them said that they wanted to come back to this land, spend a night or two camped out and receiving the full experience that this sacred land has to offer them. I was happy to see how quickly they connected to this place.
I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to offer this experience to our YMCA 7th Generation youth, and seeing the impact it had on them was well worth it. I hope to be able to share this same experience with future Y7G youth who are looking to connect to land, culture and history in a profound and meaningful way.
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