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Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump interpretive centre celebrates milestone anniversary

hoop dancer Dallas Arcand

Three-time world champion hoop dancer Dallas Arcand

buffalo jump anniversary plaque

Dr. Alex Meisen and Blackfoot Confederacy representatives unveil a plaque dedicating the plaque at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump to the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump interpretive centre for a quarter of a century has shared the stories of the plains people with the world.
The UNESCO world heritage site’s contributions to preserving the buffalo jump and sharing those stories were honoured Wednesday.
Hundreds of people turned out for the 25th anniversary celebration on the pavilion.
Dignitaries and other guests were treated to traditional native drumming and dancing, as well as birthday cake.
Piikani Nation councillor Wesley Provost brought greetings on behalf of the Blackfoot Confederacy, reflecting on the work that went into the interpretive site.
“A lot of the elders who were instrumental in putting this together aren’t with us any more,” Provost said. “But they have left behind a good legacy for the world to see.”
The $10-million interpretive centre opened in 1987 to considerable fanfare, including a visit from the Duke and Duchess of York.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump was used by the plains people as a kill site for 5,000 to 6,000 years, and was designated a world heritage site by UNESCO.
The interpretive centre was built into the side of the hill so it blends completely into the landscape.
Over the last quarter of a century, more than two million visitors have made their way through the exhibits beginning on the ground floor and finishing at the top of the bluff so they see the view from the cliff where buffalo fell to their death.
UNESCO Canadian Commission president Dr. Axel Meisen told the audience Head-Smashed-In is one of 962 UNESCO world heritage sites in 157 countries. There are 16 sites in Canada, of which five are in Alberta.
“Canada’s world heritage sites are well managed,” Meisen said. “The result is they’re able to proudly share our universally significant heritage with Canadians, and with the world.
“Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is an excellent example of this,” Meisen added. “The province of Alberta, the site managers and local communities must be congratulated for the excellent work they do.”
Meisen said not all world heritage sites receive the care and attention afforded to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.
“At present the majority of the work of the UNESCO world heritage committee is not the inscription of new sites, but ensuring existing sites are not at risk,” Meisen said. “These risks are diverse. They include poaching by heavily armed groups, illegal grazing, civil unrest and lawlessness as part of the overall political situation in a country, tourism, mining, poor management, human occupation, agricultural encroachment, deforestation, lack of infrastructure, and the list goes on.”
Meisen cited as an example of the threats posed to world heritage sites the recent acts of destruction of mausoleums in Timbuktu and Mali.
Meisen told the audience that 2012 is the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention, which provides a chance for reflection.
“The international committee has been invited to recognize successes, identify challenges and reflect on the future of the conservation,” Meisen said.
Canada faces conservation challenges associated with increased development and the proper balance between the benefits of increased tourism and the threat tourism can present to world heritage sites.
“The importance of active participation of local communities in the world heritage process cannot be overemphasized,” Meisen said. “The Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is an example of not only how this can be done, but how this can be done very well. This example is important to share with the world.”
Lethbridge West MLA Greg Weadick praised the people who donated the land for the interpretive centre, and those who “opened their hearts” to share Blackfoot culture to the world through Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.
“People from around the world come here and it’s one of those places you remember for a lifetime,” Weadick said.