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Where to stay
Hotel Arts, a designer boutique hotel near the centre of town, has the minimalist feel of a gallery, with works by local artists - from the large metal bull in reception to hand-blown glass light fixtures. The mood-lit rooms are spacious and the on-site bar is the perfect place for a final tipple after a night on the town (from £125; hotelarts.ca).

Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park: Best for First Nations culture

A blur of coloured feathers sweeps around the stage as a deep, ever-quickening drumbeat rattles the ribcages of the audience. The pace crescendos for a final charge before the sweat-beaded dancers suddenly halt and the drum falls into silence. The Men's Fancy Dance, as it is known, is over. The crowd gathered at the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park erupts into a din of applause and cheers.

The Historical Park is a meeting place for members of the Siksika First Nation, a self-governing indigenous community, and visitors are welcome. Overlooking a river valley that's changed little since Chief Crowfoot signed the 1877 treaty that created the reserve, there's the Interpretive Centre, shaped like a tipi splayed flat. Inside is a museum housing historical dioramas, elaborate ceremonial attire and exhibits illuminating the locals' original buffalo-hunting prowess. And then there's the dancing.

Many of the area's 6,000 residents - most with evocative names such as Laura Sitting Eagle or Robert Big Tobacco - frequently come here to watch and, donning feathered, multi-beaded regalia, to dance. Tonight, the crowd has witnessed a spectacle of wild energy, but not yet the dance that the Siksika First Nation is most famous for: the Chicken Dance.

'Our Chicken Dance comes from the legend of a young man who saw a rooster strutting around to attract females,' says Treffrey Deerfoot, the twinkle-eyed cultural curator of the Interpretive Centre. The Chicken Dance begins: men dressed in colourful feathers, bent forward with elbows pulled back, shuffle and preen in imitation of the mating dance of the prairie chicken, to the obvious delight of the crowd. So popular has this spectacle become that the World Chicken Dance Championships are held here each June.

'We're connected to the past and our ancestors with our dances. And we try to connect visitors to who we are today when we perform them,' explains Treffrey, gazing over the verdant tree-lined valley the Siksika have called home for centuries.

Further information

  • blackfootcrossing.ca

Where to eat
Along Highway 1 towards Calgary is Strathmore Station Restaurant & Pub, lined with locomotive memorabilia. There are comfort food classics, steaks, salmon and quesadillas, and the Sunday brunch buffet is a winner (mains from £8; strathmorestation.com).

Where to stay
The best way to dip into Siksika culture is to spend a night in a Blackfoot Crossing Tipi in the valley just below the Interpretation Centre. Facilities are basic (sleeping bags, portaloo) but the campfires, stove-warmed quarters and coyote howls make up for any lack of luxury (from £23 per person; blackfootcrossing.ca).

 

John Lee is a travel writer based in Vancouver. He contributed to Lonely Planet's Canada (£15.99) and wrote the Vancouver City Guide (£11.99).

 

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The article ‘The Perfect Trip: The Canadian Rockies’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.

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