Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Fort MacLeod, Alberta, Canada
Southern Alberta Region
( sightseeing, camping )
The Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump preserves and protects the actual site of a buffalo hunt. The site is the oldest buffalo hunting grounds of its kind in North America. And in 1981 the site was recognized as a UNESCO Heritage Site.
A welcome centre greets visitors who visit the heritage site. Inside there is a museum, food concession, theatre, gift shop and five stories of interpretive exhibits. Outside there are interpretive walking trails, tipi camping and two buffalo jumps.
During the summer months there are Blackfoot First Nation ceremonial dances and drumming celebrations. The site is also available for events, festivals and special gatherings.
The welcome centre is a very unique structure. It is built into the cliffs of the main buffalo jump becoming, almost, camouflaged by the surrounding sandstone landscape.
Inside the building there are 5 levels of interpretive displays. They are the First Nation Plains people geography, First Nation Plains people culture, the buffalo jump (Pis'kun), buffalo history (Otsito'tohpi Naapikoaiksi) and archeology (Isskoohtsik).
The buffalo hunt was a big part of survival for the First Nation people. It took planning, timing and teamwork. First the people would herd the buffalo into a "gathering basin" like valley. They would then direct the buffalo into "drive lanes" which were lined with stone cairns acting like a a funnel. The hunters would direct the buffalo into the drive lanes and then chase them over the cliffs to the "kill sites" waiting below.
The UNESCO Heritage Site is home to two kill sites - the Head-Smashed-In and Calderwood "kill sites". It also includes the Iitaohkanipiaiksi Gathering Basin, Aakii'ksi Drive Lanes and the Iitaok'ki'kao'pi Ki Iitayiitsittsimao'pi Processing Area.
The "Head-Smashed-In" name did not come from the buffalo falling to their deaths. No ... it came from the tragic death of a small boy. Legend says a young child wanted to watch the buffalo fall to their death during the hunt so he stood close to the cliffs where the buffalo fall. At the end of the hunt when it was time to gather their prey the hunters found the boy with his head crushed from the buffalo bodies - hence the name.
How to Get to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Travel to the community of Fort MacLeod, Alberta, Canada. From Main Street Colonel MacLeod Blvd in Fort MacLeod travel west to the end of the street connecting to the highway. Continue north on Hwy 2 for 3 kilometres to Secondary Highway #785. Turn west on Hwy #785 and continue for 15 kilometres to the heritage site.