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Date of Submission: 13/04/2018
Criteria: (iii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Parks Canada Agency
State, Province or Region:
Coordinates: N52 13 39 W106 35 47.54
Ref.: 6342

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Wanuskewin is located 2.5 kilometers north of the City of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Situated on Opimihaw Creek, a tributary of the South Saskatchewan River, Wanuskewin features topography that is unusual for the Great Plains of North America. A deep and wide valley cuts through the otherwise flat prairie, offering sheltered terraces and coulee depressions alongside a source of fresh water. Within this small radius are nineteen Pre-Contact archaeological sites that offer a complete record of cultural development on the Northern Plains, spanning six millennia. Spectacular natural beauty complements the rich cultural heritage and historic record of human settlement at this property. Wanuskewin, the Nēhiyawēwin (Cree) word roughly translated as sanctuary, is considered a sacred site and gathering place, and continues to be relevant for education, ceremonies, peaceful co-existence and reconciliation for all nations.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The archaeological resources at Wanuskewin are among the finest examples of Pre-Contact occupation of the Great Plains of North America and are an exceptional testament to traditional human settlement on the Northern Plains. Opimihaw Valley was like a magnet that drew Indigenous peoples from great distances to one location over the span of 6,400 years. No other locale contains the breadth of features or diversity of resources that define Wanuskewin – all within close walking proximity of just over two square kilometers and on the edge of a major urban centre. The archaeological excavations tell a story of peoples who came to hunt bison, procure plants and to settle through the various seasons. Well-stratified and multi-component excavations indicate that nearly every Pre-Contact cultural group recognized across the Plains gathered in this valley; contemporary Indigenous nations continue to affirm Wanuskewin’s significance as a spiritual place.

Criterion (iii): Wanuskewin’s diverse archaeological resources are an intact and comprehensive record of human settlement for the past 6,400 years. Habitation sites, bison jumps and pounds, tipi rings and the northern-most Medicine Wheel recorded in North America narrate the varied uses for the site, and demonstrate an evolution of land-use and methods for survival. Nowhere else is there such an extensive record in such close proximity.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Wanuskewin’s function as a gathering place, site for hunting bison and procuring plant materials is demonstrated by the rich and long-running archaeological research that has been ongoing in partnership with the University of Saskatchewan since 1982. Archaeological study confirms and documents that nearly every Pre-Contact Northern Plains cultural group inhabited the site at some point. Topography, setting, spirit and feeling are attributes of the property, and indicators of the sense of place. All of the attributes at Wanuskewin are credible, long-existing and pre-date settler contact. The physical site is consistent with the statement of outstanding universal value.

Wanuskewin is a remarkable and intact record of human settlement on the Northern Plains. A wide range of archaeological resources from the purely economic to the sacred exist here including campsites, tipi rings, bison jumps, and ceremonial features. For people to have thrived in this region, they would have required the facilities of hunting, gathering, shelter, flora, fauna and riparian habitat. These features are present at Wanuskewin, and are contained within a small terrestrial area. All of the aspects of Outstanding Universal Value exist within the site. Wanuskewin provides a snapshot of Indigenous cultural development in the Great Plains region over 6,000 years. 

Comparison with other similar properties

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage site, Alberta, is representative of communal hunting techniques for a similar time period and illustrates subsistence hunting techniques of Plains peoples. It is a bison jump site and was utilized by the Blackfoot/Siksika peoples. Wanuskewin contains a much wider breadth of heritage resources and was utilized by all Indigenous peoples of the Northern Plains.

Pimachiowin Aki, Manitoba/Ontario, is an exceptional example of a boreal forest landscape and land-use by the Anishinaabeg peoples and their interaction with the land. The physical landscape is quite different from Wanuskewin and encompasses a much larger area that incorporates water ways and trap lines.

Mesa Verde, Colorado, provides testimony to the ancient cultures of the Puebloan Peoples of the American Southwest. While a significant Indigenous site in North America, it offers insight into a different cultural group over a different time period.

Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, graphically illustrates the achievements of the Chacoan peoples who overcame the harshness of their environment to build architectural and engineered monuments. Wanuskewin also demonstrates elements of nature and the harshness of the northern Saskatchewan climate as a constraint to settlement, though in a completely different environment. Additionally, Wanuskewin is an associated landscape typical of hunting and gathering peoples.

Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan, is a mixed-grass prairie ecosystem, which differs greatly from the aspen parkland biome where Wanuskewin is situated. While Grasslands National Park contains tipi rings, there is no substantial archaeological record at the site.