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Re-building Bridges Within the Cultural Trade Route

Updated: Apr 16

Back to The Cairn


By Dawn Saunders Dahl, Indigenous Program Manager

Building Bridges within the Cultural Trade Route provides brave spaces by securing a foundation of community connectedness. Intertwining history with art making and storytelling, this program improves awareness and appreciation for the shared past and future of Indigenous cultures in the Bow Valley. By offering an opportunity to forge new friendships and understanding, this program relies on positive relationship development and building trust. Including Indigenous voices to create projects, we foster opportunities to participate in workshops not only to make a product but to find new ways of understanding. The Building Bridges program develops wise practices that adjust systems of working and communicating to actively demonstrate reconciliation. Fostering continued Indigenous inclusion will ensure the program’s success through engagement with the Indigenous Advisory (compromised of rotating Indigenous community members within Treaty 7 and beyond). These perspectives enhance the Whyte Museum’s programs, exhibitions, operations, and governance, key for the Whyte Museum to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) Calls to Action.

Dawn is the Indigenous program manager for the Whyte Museum and is a practicing artist. She attended Red Deer College (RDC) and University of the Arts (formerly ACAD in Calgary). One of her mentors, RDC ceramic/drawing instructor Chuck Wissinger passed away last month. He was instrumental in developing who she is as an artist, an arts administrator, and a person. He created and coordinated the Summer Artist Residency program at RDC and Dawn was lucky that he provided the opportunities for her to attend, to interact with amazing artists from around the world. These kinds of opportunities are what she strives to continue to create for the Bow Valley. When Dawn was told of his passing, she felt incredibly lucky that she was with the students at Chiniki College creating murals, continuing to share with artists.


This article is a synopsis of the events from the past five months, highlighting the workshops and events that have taken place both in Morley, Canmore, and Banff.

Nakoda History Talk with Nakoda Historian Lloyd Buddy Wesley

Stoney Nakoda historian Buddy Wesley kickstarted the Building the Cultural Trade Route program with his talk in January about the community and culture of Stoney Nakoda First Nations. Buddy included images provided from the Whyte Museum Archives and spoke of the different types of tipis, what they were used for as well as described clothing and regalia worn, and what is worn today. He spoke of the importance of the Nakoda language and his interest to mentor Nakoda youth to teach the language, as well as his reconciliation efforts to provide basic language classes to Bow Valley residents. His talk highlighted the importance of continued relationship building between Indigenous and settlers to move forward, promote empathy, and break down perceptions.


International Mountain Day Dinner and Conversation


On January 29, the Town of Banff and the Whyte Museum hosted an evening of Indigenous food, cultural learning and discussion with Stoney Nakoda, Tsuu T’ina, Ktunaxa youth, community members and Elders to learn about the history of Indigenous Culture, specifically in Banff. This event was held in response to the Banff Canmore Community Foundation Vital Signs 2018 Report findings. One in three respondents wanted more cross-cultural learning, to improve knowledge, and understanding between community members and Indigenous peoples as a priority. Feedback on the assessment from Indigenous community members indicated how important it is to include Indigenous voices in any community decision making. “For over 10,000 years Indigenous peoples have lived and travelled through this valley, including the Stoney Nakoda, Ktunaxa, TsuuT’ina, Kainai, Piikani and Siksika... In the face of climate change, habitat loss, economic uncertainty and social challenges, how do we keep this Bow Valley – our home and our community – a special place that is vibrant and resilient, not only for us, but for future generations?”

The panel discussion implemented how to include Indigenous wise practices within various decision making levels in Banff. Lead by Daryl Kootenay and Ariel Waskewitch, the discussion focused on how to apply Indigenous culture and knowledge within the various decision-making levels in the mountain town site of Banff. Topics discussed during the discussion included:

  1. The history of Indigenous peoples in Banff and the importance of their sense of place.

  2. The relationship of Indigenous peoples with the ecosystem of the mountain park – learning about the interrelationship between people, animals, plants, mother earth, spiritual ceremonies, and the beliefs of ecological balance.

  3. The history of Indigenous relationship to food such as hunting and gathering in the mountains.

  4. How Indigenous people would like to be included in local decision making.


It was a free, sold-out event that highlighted the different perspectives approaches to the four topics listed above. Reference materials and further readings were provided by the Whyte Museum and the Banff Library. We will strive to continue to provide platforms for these conversations to continue, as it was expressed that this was the start of re-building relationships.


Basket making and Eco Dying Workshops with Ktunaxa artist Lillian Rose



Lillian Rose, artist from the Ktunaxa First Nation in Windermere, British Columbia hosted a beginner basket making workshop at the Whyte Museum, where local Banff participants learned basic basket making skills using cedar strips. Although the process required more time to complete the activity, basket makers were introduced to Lillian and had the opportunity to talk to her about where and how she harvests her supplies. Lillian provided an eco dying workshop to Chiniki College students where the students were shown different materials and methods that could be used to create a base for drawings, cloth, books, postcards and cards. She discussed different times of year to harvest materials, how the materials can create different results and materials she used to create the baths for the eco-dying process.



Portrait and Landscape Painting with artist Dawn Saunders Dahl

Whyte Museum Indigenous Program Manager, Dawn Saunders Dahl provided portrait and landscape workshops to Chiniki College students, offering an opportunity to get to know the students and to find out what they are interested in knowing more about. She also discovered that a number of students would like to also provide workshops to Bow Valley residents and would like to discover how to develop their own workshops. She is currently developing templates to provide to the students.

Mural Workshops with Street Artist AJA Louden, Edmonton

In February, Mural artist AJA Louden provided a five day workshop to create a mural for the Town of Canmore Art and Events Art Walk in the Woods project. The title of the piece is: dagunenâ ktûtha giya which translated means “everything happens on the fourth time around!”.


The installation was designed, constructed and painted by Stoney Nakoda students of Chiniki College with support from guest artist AJA Louden. Chiniki knowledge keeper Lloyd (Buddy) Wesley, helped guide the concept and the inclusion of the Stoney Nakoda language in the artwork.





Each face of the mural cube represents a season in Treaty 7 territory - the Stoney Nakoda language name for the corresponding season is at the top of each side of the cube, and the faces of the cube face in the four cardinal directions. Each face of the cube shows a hand, based on the hands of students at the college, performing an activity related to the season. Goals of the project included helping build the capacity to create murals by Stoney Nakoda artists in Treaty 7 territory, and to connect communities through public art. The mural was first installed at Chiniki College, then taken apart and re-installed in Canmore. The artwork will be up until mid- April on the Legacy Trail leading to the Nordic Centre and will move to different locations within the Bow Valley. Students expressed an interest in creating more boxes and murals.



Artists and assistants: Kyle Kaquitts Vera Kaquitts Katie Rider Zeke Omesasoo Amanda Twoyoungman Jarron Poucette

Blair Simeon

Alison Smalleyes

Tiana Labelle

Martin Kaquitts

Tyren Twoyoungman

Renneta Simeon

Lewis Kootenay

Sally Twoyoungman

Denise Kaquitts

Kristan Rider

Zerlina Omesasoo

Clark Labelle


A special thanks to Lorna Rye and Nicky Pacas.

Minnesota Historical Society Talk, Artist Talk and Mocassin Making Workshops with Ojibway Artist Sarah Howes

In March the Whyte Museum hosted an artist talk with Benjamin Gessner from the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) and Ojibway artist Sarah Agaton Howes. Benjamin Gessner presented information about the Minnesota Historical Society, his role and the Native American Artist in residence program. Ben works most closely with American Indian material culture (roughly 5,000 artifacts) and the Fine Art collections (roughly 6000 items). He has initiated numerous collections-based outreach projects in Dakota communities in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Nebraska, which have included bringing historical material culture to communities, as well as hosting workshops for community members to digitize family photographs and documents and conduct genealogical research. It was a pleasure to hear more about the program, see images of past recipients and gain an understanding about their challenges and successes with the program. Learn more about the program here.


Sarah shared her experiences as the 2018-19 Native American Artist in Residence at the Minnesota Historical Society Museum. She provided information about creating the book Grandmothers Gift Nookomis Obagijigan and presented examples of her art and projects. Sarah is an experienced teacher with a foundation in anti-racism and community-based social change work. Sarah frequently shares her knowledge and experience with bead work, making moccasins and creating regalia in her community and beyond. Sarah is also a published poet and spoken word performer. Sarah brought her apprentice Chally Topping to assist with teaching the moccasin workshops and taught workshops at the Whyte Museum and Chiniki College. Participants learned about different moccasin styles and students at the college have been inspired to create their own books, designs and gained confidence to also teach. Sarah, Chally and Dawn were invited by the students to attend the Round Dance in Morley while they were here. Sarah and Chally met the community, danced and shared wild rice picked in Minnesota with organizers.

Here are a few participants reflections about what they learned what they thought of the workshops:

“I think it’s good to see what is out there to learn different things and have the community come out. A lot of people do not really know about these programs or the history of Stoney Nakoda. It is good to bring back the history so the younger Nakoda and non-Indigenous generations will know to know why are we here. It’s an opportunity for reconciliation and get a step ahead to gain skills to teach.”


- Kyle Kaquitts, Chiniki College Student


“We gained insight into all materials and processes from an Indigenous perspective - harvesting cedar, tanning and cutting the hide, processing what is needed to complete the task at hand, working independently together. Over the course of the workshops, I saw many people watching, helping, and guiding each other, exercising patience, and asking questions while learning new things at staggered rates. My partner also attended the moccasin making workshop and he said he "learned that he could make a pair of moccasins in five hours, having never stitched leather before." Our moccasins aren't perfect, but they fit our feet beautifully! That kind of experiential and functional learning is very empowering.”


- Stephanie Hamilton, Whyte Museum Staff Member, Banff


The Building Bridges Cultural Trade Route program will reinvigorate, reclaim and re-establish new bonds that have not been accessible within the last 40 years in the Bow Valley. Participants will have the opportunity to breakdown barriers and perceptions of each other through the sharing of collective art making experiences, conversations, and through the respectful building of friendships. We will also strive to reclaim spaces by providing outdoor and indoor classrooms throughout the Bow Valley for future generations, where learnings about the land can take place. Stay tuned to find out about upcoming workshops, events and films! Back to The Cairn

111 Bear Street, Banff, Alberta, T1L 1A3, Canada

T: 1 403 762 2291   

E: info [at] whyte.org

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The Whyte Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of The Peter and Catharine Whyte Foundation and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts

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