The following is a bit of information on select locations revered and held sacred by the First Peoples of this land. There are approximately 21,000 recorded sacred sites in Saskatchewan alone with many more that still need to be identified and protected.
This is a very old rock that I was gifted with several years ago and it`s shaped into a matahikan ‘buffalo skinning stone’. It fits into a hand perfectly and the edge is very sharp. About 3 years ago, my friend Buffy St. Marie came to visit me at Wanuskewin and I gifted her with it. The rock is now kept at her house in Hawai’i.
This is the monument for the 8 warriors that were hung for their alleged participation in the North West Resistance of 1885. This mass grave is located just north and on the side of a hill not far from Fort Battleford and is Canada’s biggest mass hanging of First Nation people. It took place on Nov. 17th, 1885 and the Canadian Government went to the surrounding reserves and forced people to go to Battleford to witness the hanging with the deadly threat that if there was any more resistance that there would be more hangings. First Nation students from the Battleford Industrial School were also forced to attend the hangings. I had the opportunity to interview many First Nation Elders in Cree (which I then translated into English) on the events of 1885 for a book called Loyal Till Death. There are many stories told by our Elders on what actually happened back then. Many First Nation men were wrongly charged, convicted and executed. The truth of Canada’s highly lamentable and historical catalogue on the treatment of First Nation people following the Post Treaty Period still needs to be told. Canadian History as we know it and as has been taught in the classrooms of this country needs to be revisited and the whole story on the events of 1885 and specifically including our perspective needs to be included.
Manitou Assiniy At some unknown date in the past, this extraterrestrial rock blazed through the skies in a glowing fireball before coming to rest near Iron Creek, a tributary of the Battle River in eastern Alberta. This rock has remarkable spiritual and scientific qualities. For First Nations of the Northern Plains, it is a powerful spirit helper and guardian of the buffalo. Healers called on this spirit helper, known as the Flying Rock or Manitou Stone (the Stone being imbued with Manitou, or Spirit), to assist them and to provide protection against bad medicine. People from diverse Nations visited the Manitou Stone when they passed through the area and left offerings of food, tobacco, and other gifts. The balance of life that the Stone helped maintain was upset in 1866 when Methodist missionary George McDougall ordered it removed and taken by cart to Victoria Mission east of Edmonton. It was later shipped to Ontario. The Stone`s removal created deep concern; First Nations spiritual leaders prophesied that war , plague and famine would beset the people. McDougall scoffed but in 1869 more than 400 people died in warfare between the Blackfeet and Cree. A smallpox epidemic the following year claimed over 3,500 lives. Hundreds if not thousands of First Nations died of starvation when the bison failed to come north due to fires at the border. The Manitou Stone returned to Alberta in 1972 and is on permanent loan to the RAM. Scientists study the meteorite to better understand a range of issues, from the origins of the solar system to major paleontological extinctions. The Royal Alberta Museum has been exploring how to care for this extraordinary object in a way that respects both perspectives.
This is a photograph of me and a mapping project that I began about 20 years ago. I call it Nehiyaw Askiy Wasinahikan - Cree Land Map. My objective is to identify Cree Place Names ie. Sacred Sites, Rivers, Creeks, Lakes, Hills, etc. from the Rocky Mountains all the way to the Red River. A work-in-progress.
This aerial photograph was taken a few years ago of what Saskatchewan Archaeological Society calls the Little Manitou Lake Erratic. This site is located 45 minutes north east of Saskatoon. I believe it was about 1998 when I received a call from the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society requesting a meeting with me to which I agreed. To make a long story short, they asked if I was interested in going to this site as I had never heard of this place before. I agreed and they said they would cover my mileage and gave me $75.00 for my gas. After looking around the area I had been directed to do to, I finally found it and spent a whole day at the site. There are close to 400 tipi rings just north of this big rock that is located at this site and many of the rocks that form the tipi rings are buried in the soil with just the tops of the rocks showing. Apparently, some years previous, a bunch of SAS students had gone there and covered each of the rocks in each tipi ring with white flour. Following this activity, they had hired a pilot who owned a small plane to take arial photographs of the site, hence this photograph. The Big Rock on the site is square now as many of the pieces on it`s side have fallen off. I had climbed to the flat top surface of the rock and upon doing so, found a bowl shaped indentation in the middle of the rock. This indentation was covered in red which I think was red ochre. I have returned once since then, and to my dismay found that high school grad students had sprayed graffiti on the rock (Grad Year, names etc.) Sad!
This is my late father Wilfred Tootoosis, Cree Assiniboine (Nakota) standing in front of Mistassini. This big rock was blown up by the Saskatchewan Government in the 1960s despite a heroic effort by First Nations (including my late father and family friend Ms Buffy St Marie) and non-First Nations who fundraised so that the rock could be moved to a safe place. However, the Government proceeded to blow it up so that it wouldn’t be in the way as the Gardiner Dam was being built. My Dad took several dancers from Poundmaker and Little Pine to do one last ceremonial at and for Mistassini prior to it being blown up.
In the Fall of 2004, CEO & Producer Roman Bittman from NAAF (National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation) contacted me to ask if I would work with the Production Team in an advisory capacity in producing the 2005 National Aboriginal Achievement Awards and Gala hosted by Saskatchewan in Saskatoon at the CUC (Credit Union Centre) to which I agreed. After many discussions, we agreed to honour Sacred Sites by using that as the theme for the 2005 Awards. I was asked to suggest and reccommend a few sites that we could visit and one of them was the St. Victor Petroglyphs located about an hour and a half south west of Saskatoon.We went there with an Elder and the Elder did a ceremony beside this rock ( in the picture) that was located on the side of this big hill in this huge valley by St. Victor. From a certain angle, this rock looks like a buffalo walking up the hill of the valley. I was told that the horizontal lines on the rock represent the ribs of the buffalo and the centre represents the buffalo’s spine. I don`t know what the indented spots represent. Across from this big valley is the effigy of a huge turtle. There are also many other sites located in the vicinity.
This is a photo I took of Wanuskewin Heritage Park located on the north east side of the City of Saskatoon. For thousands of years, this was a winter camping site for many tribes and there are two buffalo jumps located on the land along with a medicine wheel. However, old the Pyramids, this First Nation habitation site is thousands and thousands of years older than the Pyramids. The name Wanuskewin was coined by an Inter-tribal Circle of Elders in and about the mid-1980s. Depending on whom one asks, there are differing interpretations of what this Cree word means.
This arieal view of a so-called Medicine Wheel is of one of many similar sites on the Great Northern Plains. I had an opportunity to do an on-camera interview with a Cree Elder right on the site of a similar medicine wheel for my U of S Native Studies program "Nehiyawak". This was a program where I interviewed over 50 First Nation Elders, Journalists, Academics, Veterans, Oskapaywisak, Treaty Knowledge Keepers, Artists, Leaders, etc.. Anyway, the interview with this Elder provided me with an opportunity to ask him if he knew anything of what these rock formations meant. He gave me a fascinating insight on how some of them worked.
This visual is of a Plains Cree camp on the Great Northern Plains of Saskatchewan, Canada. Shot was taken in the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan in the early 1880s. Already, the Buffalo Nation had been exterminated via Canadian Government Policy, and it became impossible to repair bison hide tipis. First Nations had no choice but to resort to using canvas to make tipis, and when winter came, thousands froze to death. Mistahi Muskwa-Big Bear`s camp. Shot was taken in the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan in the early 1880s. Already, the Buffalo Nation had been exterminated via Canadian Government Policy.They had no choice but to resort to using canvas to make tipis...and when winter came, thousands froze to death.
This is another photograph I took of Wanuskewin. I had set up some tipis on this small meadow that is called the Tipperary Creek Habitation Site and it’s nestled deep in the valley. My personal involvement with Wanuskewin began in and around 1985 or so as I was asked by the Founding Elders and Meewasin Valley Authority to help out in different ways. This included helping out in the many ceremonies that they had on the site. In 1986, I was asked by the Elders and Meewasin Valley Authority to set up a tipi village including a stage and to coordinate a dance performance by Great Plains (our dance company) for the Royal Couple (Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip) who came to the site that Fall to designate it as a National Historic Site. Following this, I was again asked to co-choreograph/co-produce the Sound Track for the film on Wanuskewin and this also included doing a lot of Voice-Over work for the Main Gallery when it opened in 1992 where I was again asked to work on the Opening Ceremonies of the Park with our dance company Great Plains.
About 10 years ago, me and my wife Winona went on a vacation with no specific destination or agenda whatsoever. We packed up, jumped into the truck which had a camper and just headed out. As I was driving I went south, and the first place we ended up at was a place called Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park. We spent all day there walking around and there’s a certain feeling about the place that is impossible to put into written words.
This big Rock/Stone lies adjacent to a big river in Saskatchewan’s far north. It’s called "Bear Head Rock". It sits not far from another little known rock that has been called "The Swimming Stone". The Northern Cree called it this because this massive rock would 'swim' across the river from one side of the shore to the other side. Its tracks were highly discernable. In fact, one of the first so-called English Explorers to Saskatchewan’s north in the early 1880s ( I forget his name ) included a story in his memoirs where he travelled up-river with Cree Guides and they came upon this big rock and he asked about it and they told him it was the "Swimming Stone" with an explanation as to why it was called that. In his daily diary, the Explorer had taken note of where the Swimming Stone was sitting and was incredulous when upon their return trip from up-river, the Swimming Stone now sat on the opposite shore of the river. Bear`s Head Rock is an offering rock situated on an island on the Churchill River. Following is a quote from the explorer Alexander Mackenzie`s Journal; “At some distance from the silent rapids is a narrow strait, where the Indians have painted red figures on the face of a rock, and where it was their custom formerly to make an offering of some of the articles which they had with them, in their way to and from Churchill. The course of this lake, which is very meandering, may be estimated at thirty-eight miles, and is terminated by the Portage du Canot Tourner from the danger to which those are subject who venture to run this rapid. From thence a river of one mile and an half north-west course leads to the Portage de Bouleau, and in about half a mile to Portage des Epingles, so called from the sharpness of its stones. Then follows the Lake des Souris, the direction across which is amongst islands, north-west by west six miles. In this traverse is an island, which is remarkable for a very large stone, in the form of a bear, on which the natives have painted the head and snout of that animal; and here they also were formerly accustomed to offer sacrifices.”