Canada’s Federated Co-operatives gifts $1m for cultural heritage park and its Unesco bid

‘At the heart of community is a commitment to understanding the rich history and diverse backgrounds from which we’ve come.’

Wanuskewin Heritage Park, an archaeological site and non-profit cultural and historical centre of the First Nations, has recently received the backing of a big regional co-op.

The centre, which lies just outside the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, which works to advance the understanding and appreciation of the evolving cultures of the Northern Plains indigenous peoples.

In Cree, ‘Wanuskewin’ means ‘living in harmony’ or ‘peaceful gathering place’. “This name was chosen by our original elders to reflect the spirit of the land and its history,” says the Wanuskewin Heritage Park Authority (WHPA).

“The nomadic tribes who travelled through the Northern Plains gathered on this site of natural beauty where today visitors can relive the stories of a people who came here to hunt bison, gather food and herbs and escape the winter winds.”

It adds: “Walking in their footsteps, you will understand why this site was a place of worship and celebration, of renewal with the natural world and of a deep spirituality, and is still this way today.”

First Nation tribes display traditional costumes at Wanuskewin Heritage Park (Image: Tim Graham/Sygma/Corbis/Getty Images)

Wanuskewin is a National Historic Site of Canada due to its archaeological resources – a treasure store of nearly 6,000 years of the history of the Northern Plains peoples – and the centre aims to be a “living reminder” of the peoples’ sacred relationship with the land. 

To preserve this for future generations, WHPA is submitting a bid to bring World Heritage Site status to Wanuskewin – which, if successful, will be the first site in Saskatchewan to gain such a distinction.

The bid is being supported by another organisation rooted in Saskatoon: Federated Co-operatives Ltd (FCL), which is giving the centre a CA$1m (£630,000) backing. FCL is a co-op federation which provides procurement and distribution to more than 160 member co-ops across Western Canada – with activities ranging from groceries to fuel and lumber.

Federated Co-operatives’ HQ in Saskatoon

“At the heart of community is a commitment to understanding the rich history and diverse backgrounds from which we’ve come. This includes taking the time to create spaces and opportunities for inclusivity, spaces where we can gather to better understand each other,” said FCL chief executive Heather Ryan.

She added that for FCL, the gift represents a “unique opportunity to build on our commitment to diversity and inclusion and reaffirm our commitment to Truth and Reconciliation”.

The donation will help the park with its programming, resource management activity, and application to become a World Heritage Site by 2025.

“This is an extremely exciting and timely charitable gift to Wanuskewin,” said park CEO Darlene Brander. “These beautiful traditional lands belong to all of us and in the spirit of reconciliation, FCL has stepped up to ensure we can fully articulate the new interpretive centre and trail system as being unique in the world.”

After completing its visionary Thundering Ahead Campaign in late 2020, the newly expanded Wanuskewin faces its next big challenge: the Unesco World Heritage designation application process. The park announced its bid in 2016 and must meet the rigorous Unesco criteria while expanding its programming and resource management activity.

New amenities in place include an exhibit hall with interactive displays, indigenous art galleries, an enhanced trail system through multiple archaeological sites, and the new and ever-growing bison herd. The centre also hosts daily drop-in programmes, as well as summer kids’ camps supported by the Saskatchewan-based Conexus credit union.

Candace Wasacase-Lafferty, Wanuskewin board member and Fundraising Committee chair, added: “Wanuskewin relies on strong community partnerships to ensure we can fulfil our vision that Wanuskewin will be the living reminder of the peoples’ sacred relationship with the land. FCL has long been a stable and strong partner of Wanuskewin and we hope their ongoing commitment will serve to inspire others to join us in our important work here.”