When Heather Black leads hikes and snowshoe tours through the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, she draws visitors’ attention to more than just the stunning scenery. As a member of the province’s Blood Tribe, Ms. Black’s goal is to encourage people to go “walking these lands with a different lens.”
Three years ago, Ms. Black, a certified guide with the Outdoor Council of Canada, launched Buffalo Stone Woman, a tour company that offers experiences with an Indigenous perspective.
In winter, she offers the Onestop Crossing Snowshoe tour, which begins with a 2.5-kilometre snowshoe hike and concludes with a smudge ceremony, a full meal – stew, bannock, berry soup, mint tea – and fireside stories with Dave Onespot, who operates a campground on Tsuut’ina Nation land. Each participant also makes and takes home a leather heart medicine pouch, a traditional keepsake.
The package is rooted in Ms. Black’s own practices.
“The berry soup is something that I specialize in,” she says. “I’ve been taught by my aunties how to create that, and it’s a delicacy for us Indigenous people.”
And she’s been performing smudging rituals for decades, as a way to release the stresses of life.
“It’s our being and it’s how our ancestors had walked thousands of years before us.”
Buffalo Stone Woman was born when Ms. Black, an avid hiker, realized that many non-Indigenous people on the trails were interested in practising ceremonies with her. She was inspired to create a space to share her culture – and to do so in the environment she loves.
Ms. Black shares that the name of her business is “a story in itself.” She decided to go with the name an elder bestowed upon her during a traditional naming ceremony.
“I’m so honored to be able to walk with that name today,” she says.
When Buffalo Stone Woman launched, the target audience was people working in the oil and gas industry, which is so prominent in Alberta. But COVID-19 changed those plans, and she shifted her focus to smaller groups and families. Black now considers it a blessing in disguise. “It allowed me to grow slowly ... giving everybody the beauty, and really enriching each tour while learning the ropes of tourism.”
Through it all, Buffalo Stone Woman has been able to maintain an Indigenous employee base (although it has created partnerships with Indigenous and non-Indigenous tour operators to create one-of-a-kind packages).
“What makes this so special is we are exclusively Indigenous. It’s about the community coming together to be able to provide these experiences,” Black says.
Why is that so important to her?
“With Indigenous peoples, there are tons of stereotypes. A lot of people today see the negative side of Indigenous people while not seeing the beauty and the richness of our culture,” she says. “It’s an honor for me to use my voice to share the beauty of our culture and our connection to the land.”