Dakota looking over the prairie...
The cliff at Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump
Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump is a World Heritage Site dedicated to the preservation of plains Indian cultures. Over a period of thousands of years, tribal people used this site to obtain buffalo. They employed a skillful understanding of ritual, physical strength, and animal psychology to drive herds of buffalo over the cliff. While runners drove the buffalo over the edge, others waited near the base of the cliff to quickly slaughter the animals and preserve their meat for future use.
According to legend, Head Smashed In derives its name from a young Indian man who wanted to see the buffalo up close. He hid himself inside a small cave under the edge of the cliff while his fellow tribesmen completed the drive. He watched the falling buffalo as though he were looking out from behind a waterfall. The hunt was particularly successful that day; the bodies piled high on the prairie below. When the people finished buthering the animals, they found the young man crushed beneath a dead buffalo, hence the name.
A magnificent multi-storey interpretive center marks the location of the ancient buffalo jump. The building accomodates the unique landscape and is largely hidden underground. The museum provides a fascinating history of the local tribes and their cultural practices.
One display at the museum shows an old winter count written on a large buffalo robe. Years ago, certain people were entrusted to record the tribal histories. Starting at the center and spiraling out, they drew a symbol to represent each year. The symbol served as a mental cue to remind the historian of the most important events of the year.
Standing below the cliff, we look up toward the western sky. After thousands of years of successful hunts on this location, buffalo bones are piled many meters deep under the ground. They aren't visible under the soil and grass, but their presence impresses me with the greatness of their spirit and history.