Celebrating bison

ELK ISLAND NATIONAL PARK, Alta. — Zhiyong Li of Edmonton brought his three aunts visiting from China to the Bison Festival Aug. 9.

They canoed in voyageur canoes, watched indigenous dancers, listened to music and ate bison tongue and bison burgers.

“This was very unique. It’s a nice place,” said Li, who wanted to show his Chinese relatives a unique Canadian adventure.

Melanie Morrison brought her family from Edmonton to the festival to learn more about bison.

“We live near by and we’ve never had the opportunity to come and learn about bison,” said Morrison.

“We have eaten bison meat, but this is a good way to find out how to purchase it from local farmers.”

Kevin Penney of Strathmore, Alta., honours the burly animal with a statue made from scrap and barbed wire. | Mary MacArthur, photo.

Kevin Penney of Strathmore, Alta., honours the burly animal with a statue made from scrap and barbed wire. | Mary MacArthur, photo.

Connecting bison producers and their product to the urban audience is exactly what the Bison Producers of Alberta and the Canadian Bison Association wanted from the Bison Festival.

“It’s the target audience we were hoping would come. It’s the urban people from Edmonton,” said Thomas Ackerman, chair of the Bison Producers of Alberta.

At the event, visitors could take pictures while wearing a buffalo robe, touch a bison skull, eat bison tongue, smokies and burgers, watch native dancers and purchase bison art.

“The meat, the artists, the dancers. The whole culture and history and heritage of bison is here,” said Ackerman.

Gene Oulette of Mistawasis First Nation in Saskatchewan dances a sneak-up dance at the bison festival. | Mary MacArthur, photo.

Gene Oulette of Mistawasis First Nation in Saskatchewan dances a sneak-up dance at the bison festival. | Mary MacArthur, photo.

The event was organized by Parks Canada staff at Elk Island National Park.

Bison first came to the national park in 1907 from a protected herd in Montana. About 1,000 Plains and Wood bison are in two herds at the park.

Visitors also got a behind the chutes tour of the bison handling facility. Bison from the park have been shipped to conservation herds around the world and sold to local producers.

“There’s people that didn’t know bison were here,” said Ackerman, who hopes the bison festival will become an annual event.

Scott Nesbitt, a Parks Canada outdoor education officer, said they wanted to celebrate the history of bison.

“We felt we need to celebrate some of our success,” he said.

“It’s a complete celebration of everything bison from culture to conservation to cuisine.”

By inviting people to learn more about bison, he hopes more people will become bison stewards.