While they once roamed North America freely, today bison are classified as Near Threatened by official conservation status. Fortunately, a small but budding population in central Canada is unlocking the future of eco-tourism in the region while connecting communities to their past.
In the Canadian province of Alberta, a community of Métis has seen their generational dreams come true with the return of bison to the region. According to National Geographic, bison were plentiful in the North Saskatchewan River Valley more than 150 years ago. And for Métis, the steady population was the center of their world. Bi-annual hunting seasons proved to be the cornerstone of their socio-economic welfare, in addition to community spirit. That all went away due to over-hunting by European settlers, but today, 21st century Métis are getting a piece of their history back.
With the return of 16 bison to the fields near Edmonton, Alberta, an organization known as Métis Crossing is celebrating the past while looking to the future. They've created an interactive learning center, which will soon include a hotel for overnight guests. From learning about Métis history to traditional practices involving bison, Métis Crossing aims to offer guests the complete package when it comes to an understanding of the region's ancestral people, in addition to creating a sustainable tourism economy.
The head of the organization, Marois, felt it was the perfect marriage of concepts for the center. "When we talk about wanting to share our story in an experiential way, it's not about looking at pictures or old things behind glass," Marois explained. "It's about making it real for people." And while spreading the rich and meaningful history of the Métis is a priority of the organization, Marois also stressed the symbolism of the bison and the strength that they bring to the community.
The great return of these 16 bison to Métis Crossing's lands is unlocking the past and the future of this indigenous community of Canada's prairie lands. You can learn more about the organization at metiscrossing.com.