Renovated nature centre updated with more Indigenous history
- Katie Doke Sawatzky | May 16, 2017
A renovated nature centre in Prince Albert National Park featuring exhibits about the Indigenous history and culture in the area is up and running for its opening on the May-long weekend.
After nearly three years of planning, designing and then installation, Robyn Hufnagel is pleased with how the Waskesiu Nature Centre has come together. She is a product developer for Parks Canada and was the manager for the Centre’s renewal project. She was excited to show the finished product to students from Christopher Lake School on May 11. The students spent the morning testing out the exhibits.
“It was a very successful day,” Hufnagel said.
The $1.2 million project updated 30-year old exhibits in the Centre and also made renovations to the building. The Centre is located in the town site of Waskesiu and is meant to be a starting point for visitors who will continue on to hike or camp in the Park.
Hufnagel said the motivation behind the project was not only to modernize the centre but also to educate visitors about the Indigenous history of the area. She consulted with the Nature Centre Advisory Group, which consists of 14 First Nations and Métis communities in the area, on how to “provide input and feedback into the exhibits themselves to ensure that the cultural content is accurate and respectful.”
“We’ve brought that in and weaved it throughout the exhibits to connect the hearts and minds of the kids to what this land was long before the park was established,” she said.
Norman Henderson, an Elder from Montreal Lake Cree Nation, was part of the Advisory Group. He hopes that tourists will come and learn about the hunting skills that First Nations people used in the area.
“We teach them a little bit about the nature and the different plants…and different grasses maybe,” said Henderson. “The other things, too, that we were doing there was tracking, the different types of tracks that a buffalo makes and the elk makes and what to be looking for if you’re walking through the bush.”
“I would like to see a bunch of people of different nationalities or whatever to be able to join together and have fun,” he said.
The Centre’s exhibits showcase the flora and fauna found in the Park, which is in a transitional eco-zone where the grasslands meet the boreal forest. Crawl spaces, puppets and costumes encourage interactive play, something Hufnagel said the kids from Christopher Lake really enjoyed.
“Right away we had bison and wolves and everything running through our centre,” she laughed.
The Centre has a life-sized bison with a tanned cape that visitors can touch. The display explains the significance of the bison and its many uses. There is also a wigwam and displays and banners incorporate Cree, Dene, Dakota and Michif words.
Hufnagel is expecting more than the average 15,000 visitors to the Park this year since Parks Canada passes are free in celebration of Canada 150. There will be a community celebration at the Nature Centre on June 24.
The Nature Centre Advisory Group currently includes:
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations
Fish Lake Métis Local 108
Gabriel Dumont Institute
Lac La Ronge Indian Band
Mistawasis First Nation
Montreal Lake Cree Nation
Northern Saskatchewan Trappers Association
Office of the Treaty Commissioner
Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation
Prince Albert Grand Council
Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre
Sturgeon Lake First Nation
Wahpeton Dakota Nation