Sacred Wanuskewin: A Heritage Park Preserving and Celebrating Indigenous Culture, Traditions, and Legacy

Seeking peace of mind. 

Minutes north of Saskatoon’s modern, bustling downtown sits Wanuskewin, a heritage park where visitors step back in time to a sacred Indigenous gathering place more than 6,400 years old. In this place of profound cultural significance and jaw-dropping natural beauty, the collective heartbeats of the Cree, Ojibwa, Assiniboine, Nakota, Dakota, and Blackfoot Peoples still echo.

Years ago, cattle rancher Michael Vitkowski discovered his property was a giant archeological site and for more than 40 years allowed archeologists to unveil a plethora of treasures, including a medicine wheel. This sparked his intention to protect the area from development, and after some time, the Meewasin Valley Authority and City of Saskatoon finally partnered to create Wanuskewin Heritage Park, still home to the longest-running archeological dig in Canada. It was declared a Provincial Heritage Property in 1983, and Queen Elizabeth II declared it a National Historic Site in 1987. In 2023, the Tourism Industy Association of Canada selected Wanuskewin as the top Indigenous Tourism Destination in Canada, and it’s poised to achieve UNESCO World Heritage designation in 2026.



The cultural and spiritual importance of this ancient meeting place is amplified by the reintroduction of bison to their native lands. Four hundred years ago, North America’s Great Plains were home to nearly 30 million bison, but thanks in large part to European settlers’ overhunting ways, the bison population decreased, vanishing altogether 150 years ago. In 2019, Wanuskewin partnered with Parks Canada and welcomed a handful of bison back to their prairie home, where today, more than 30 (with new calves on the way) roam the property.

The significance of bison can’t be underrated. For millennia, Plains peoples relied on bison for sustenance, clothing, and shelter, honouring the spirit of these majestic creatures through ritual and reverence. Derived from Cree, “Wanuskewin” roughly means “seeking peace of mind,” and having a thriving bison population is a gift that has calmed the soul of many here, as it not only helps revitalize the local ecosystem but also reaffirms the enduring bond between Indigenous peoples and the land. Among the handful of trails within the park, the Bison Viewing Trail truly captures how spiritually interconnected and culturally significant the bison is to the Indigenous Peoples.


Photo by Mary Ann Barkhouse

Photo by Mary Ann Barkhouse



Both self-guided and guided all-ages tours are available with access to Wanuskewin’s striking Indigenous art installations and interpretive exhibits. Weekend events celebrate Indigenous culture through dance and drumming, and between June and September, Wanuskewin offers regular and deluxe Tipi Sleepovers in an 18-foot Plains Cree-style tipi, where guests enjoy an evening of guided programming and overnight accommodation, with a bannock bake and hot chocolate around a campfire and breakfast the next morning. It’s an unforgetable way to experience the spirit of the Opimihāw Valley.



While its onsite restaurant features dishes inspired by the land, Wanuskewin’s Han Wi Moon Dinner, a finalist for Top Culinary Experience in Canada, is a complete culinary immersion in the people, ingredients, and culture of the Northern Plains. From July 25 to 29, 2024, there will be a guided 45-minute walking tour of the site, followed by a welcome course featuring fried bannock drizzled with chokecherry and a glass of Saskatoon berry-infused water. The first course is an Askiy garden salad with puffed wild rice and bison dry meat, the main is bison tenderloin seasoned with yarrow and sage, and for dessert, there is traditional berry stew with birch whipped cream. After the dinner, cultural presentations, including from storyteller Dr. Ernie Walker, a driving force behind the development of Wanuskewin itself, promise to further inspire understanding of the connection between these ancient peoples and this hallowed land. The experience is intensified by the approaching dusk, further magnifying the allure of Saskatchewan’s Land of Living Skies.