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Indigenous Life in Banff: How and Where to Discover and Connect

Banff is a very sacred and special place to Indigenous people, especially to those who traditionally visited the area. They came here to gather food, medicines and to visit the mountains and hot springs for healing.

Dawn Sauders Dahl

“Banff is a unique area where Indigenous peoples gathered to trade for centuries,” says the Whyte Museum’s Manager of Indigenous Relationships and Programs Dawn Saunders Dahl. “The mountains are considered sacred where Indigenous peoples visited for spiritual reasons.”

She says it’s important to know that there was not one specific group of Indigenous peoples who regularly visited Banff and the Bow Valley. Banff is located on the traditional territories of the Iyârhe Nakoda Nations (Bearspaw, Wesley, Chiniki), the Blackfoot Confederacy (Siksika, Kainai, Piikani), the Tsuut’ina – part of the Dene people, Ktunaxa, Secwépemc, Mountain Cree, and Métis.

After contact with first settlers, gatherings in Banff continued, including Banff Indian Days, where families would come together to share stories, medicines, food and clothing. Today, Saunders Dahl says there are many Indigenous people living and working in Banff.

If you’re keen to learn more about what makes this place so important to Indigenous people, Saunders Dahl offers some helpful tips:

1. Do a bit of research before your visit. There are a number of great books available at the Whyte Museum shop. She recommends These Mountains are our Sacred Places by Chief John Snow, Spirit of the Rockies by Courtney Mason and 21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian Act by Bob Joseph. Also, read up on Treaty 7 here, and explore the territory of modern Banff online at the Indigenous Peoples Atlas.

2. Visit the Whyte online. Before you come, you can watch a series of videos about things as varied as local medicinal plants, the importance of land acknowledgements and traditional stew and bannock recipes.

3. Explore Recognizing Relations. The Whyte Archives' Recognizing Relations project is a great place to explore the history of Indigenous peoples in Banff. It’s a partnership project with the Stoney Nakoda community that is working to identify the names of all the people in the historic images from Banff Indian Days. By changing the photo captions and removing outdated and inappropriate naming, colonial ways of history can be addressed and improved.

4. Discover Heritage Homes. The Luxton Home Museum is also a great space to see Indigenous artworks from Banff Indian Days, Saunders Dahl says. Also, the heritage homes of the Whyte and Moore families offer places to explore the relationships these Banff settlers had with Indigenous people.

Richard Van Camp, Courtesy of William Au

5. Attend special programming. The Museum has a number of special and engaging programming opportunities as well, including Indigenous Seasonal Walks and Talks, Stoney Nakoda History and Language class as well as arts programs. Find all the information here.

6. Support Indigenous artists. Purchasing books and artwork by Indigenous artists helps strengthen the cycle of Truth and Reconciliation. When you make a purchase, find out where it was made and ensure it was by Indigenous people. There’s a lovely selection of gifts available at the Whyte’s Museum Shop.

Following these simple steps can help you discover more about the complex Indigenous culture that’s been present in Banff for centuries. And in the process, we hope you’ll learn a lot more than you expect, and feel a deeper connection to this majestic place. We look forward to welcoming you!

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