Banff Jasper Collection

The Rocky Mountains are a sacred place to many First Nation communities. From mountain peaks, waters trickle in serene streams. Streams that not only carry glacier waters but soothing healing powers — according to local beliefs. These sacred lands whisper stories of tradition and reverence. In Banff National Park (Mînî Hrpa), a unique collaboration brings Iyarhe Nakoda (Stoney Nakoda) stories and language to life.

A couple walk into Nightrise at night, illuminated with blue light.

Nightrise brings the serene beauty and wonder of the Canadian Rockies to life in unforgettable ways, enriched by the cultural insights of Iyarhe Nakoda. It started in 2020 when Pursuit collaborated with Stoney Nakoda in partnership with Moment Factory to produce a captivating winter exhibit. It beautifully weaves together luminous light displays, evocative soundscapes and the rich tapestry of traditional Stoney language and drumming. This enchanting experience was awarded the Indigenous Tourism Alberta Allyship Award in 2022 and clinched the top honour in the Industry Innovators category at the 2023 Skift IDEA Awards.

Purple and pink light display inside at Nightrise.

In the heart of Banff National Park, Nightrise begins when you step into the gondola. As you ascend over 7,000 feet to Sulphur Mountain (Mînî Rhuwî) summit, the town of Banff lights become distant and you are soon surrounded by complete darkness. A calming audio plays gentle music and the soothing voice of an Iyarhe Nakoda woman is heard saying, “…this is a time to slow down, to let go of what we know and embrace the infinite possibilities that lay before us…” She adds, “…at the top of this mountain there are mysterious fleeing wonders awaiting in the dark.”

Stepping out of the gondola at the top of Mînî Rhuwî is like stepping into the night sky as you are consumed by a deep blue aurora. At the top, the landscape is transformed by four mesmerizing digital art installations, known as the “Four Wonders.” These installations encompass vibrant lighting, multimedia marvels, immersive video projections, and captivating music.

There are several heartwarming stories and activities that highlight the magic of Iyarhe Nakoda culture throughout Nightrise. Traditional drumming and singing begins to play as you exit the main floor. The cold mountain air and cosmic rays create the illusion of being one with the northern lights. Elder Charles (Bald Eagle) Rabbit from Iyarhe Nakoda tells the story of the northern lights in a short video interview with Cherith (Echo Woman) Mark, language and cultural coordinator at Stoney Education Authority. Mark is Stoney Nakoda and collaborated with Pursuit and Moment Factory in creating Nightrise, ensuring an accurate and appropriate representation of Iyarhe Nakoda language and culture. Her voice is the one you first hear when you first step into the gondola to ascend Mînî Rhuwî.

A man and woman walk through Nightrise, with a wave pattern light covering them.

Mark leads the interview in her native tongue and Rabbit enhances viewers’ knowledge of the history of the land. Rabbit explains the powers that Lake Minnewanka holds for Indigenous people and other sacred stories of Iyarhe Nakoda. Storytelling for Iyarhe Nakoda People holds a strong significance — it is the primary way of learning. Pursuit and Moment Factory honour this indigenized way of teaching by using multimedia technology to share the stories of Iyarhe Nakoda. Visitors can read, listen and visualize the history of Mînî Rhuwî.

Each year, the cultural representation of Iyarhe Nakoda is enriched. This year, an interactive game is available for visitors to play and gain knowledge of the Stoney language. Members of Stoney Nakoda Nation can attend Nightrise free of charge. There are also traditional treats of bannock and jam to enjoy as you listen to the voices of mountains coming from all directions in the night sky.

A parent and child sit inside Nightrise and look at a yellow and orange light display.

 “Nightrise highlights the impact of our friendship and collaboration with Iyarhe Nakoda and how Pursuit is trailblazing experiences and elevating guest journeys. This creates opportunities for us to learn about and engage with culture in innovative ways, making our adventures magical” says Stuart Back, chief operating officer of Pursuit’s Banff Jasper Collection, adding “Nightrise lights the way for an enriching encounter that transcends boundaries.”

As a proud Stoney Nakoda woman, I am thankful and greatly appreciate the work Pursuit have done with Iyarhe Nakoda. They recognize the cultural value and connection the Nakoda Nation has with Banff National Park and are taking action to provide a safe space to share the traditional history of the land. While the road to reconciliation is a long one, Nightrise is a step toward healing.

About the Author: This article was written by Chevine Holloway, a fourth-year journalism and multimedia student at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. With a passion of storytelling rooted in her Stoney Nakoda heritage, Chevine’s Nightrise experience brings to life the intersection of Indigenous culture and tourism in the majestic Rocky Mountains.

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