When Belinda Giles and her husband arrived at the Painted Warriors ranch, they weren’t sure what to expect.
It was winter in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains so the air was crisp and sharp and Belinda, her husband and two teenage daughters had never been winter camping before they their trip to Painted Warriors. But the warm greeting from owners Tracey Klettl and Tim Mearn helped put them at ease right away as they showed them to their accommodations. Belinda and her family cautiously entered their tent expecting extreme cold but were enveloped by a blanket of warmth from a cozy fire in the woodstove thoughtfully prepared for them before they arrived. Belinda was suddenly glad that the sturdy trappers tent would serve as a warm and welcoming haven and be their home base on the ranch during their stay.
After a tour of the ranch, which Belinda described as having “amazing facilities,” the family enjoyed a delicious meal followed by a campfire. Campfires are a tradition at Painted Warriors—they’re an important way, says Tracey, to cook and share food and get to know one another through shared stories. It’s also a great icebreaker the owners use for new guests to Painted Warriors.
Connecting to Nature
During their stay, the family explored a range of activities on the ranch including a Bimaagimose (snowshoe) experience. At Painted Warriors, Indigenous culture is explored and shared during every activity. Part of the Bimaagimose experience is learning about traditional ways of navigation and charting a course in nature as well as what plants were harvested for medicine. “One thing that really struck us was learning the ability to know our directions without using the sun. What a useful skill in life and for survival. We also learned that nature has a way of providing natural medicine when you need it season by season.”
While Belinda and her family had snowshoed prior to coming to Painted Warriors, they enjoyed learning about the different types of traditional snowshoes and the purpose of each shape. “Getting them on the first time is challenging but once you get it figured out, it’s pretty simple. It definitely has made us think about getting our own sets.”
Reconnecting to the land and to Indigenous culture is something woven through everything Tracey and Tim do at Painted Warriors. “We like to think we’re a bridge between cultures. For Indigenous peoples, we’re offering opportunities for healing and reconnecting to our culture.” Having the opportunity to learn from Tracey and Tim was an experience that was deeply meaningful for the family:
“Tracey and Tim were very open about their Indigenous heritage and their experiences,” said Belinda. “Tracey’s story really struck a chord with us because she is part of the Michel First Nation from Jasper which has been involuntary enfranchised. She talked about growing up in Jasper and the challenges of being Indigenous in a community that was not accepting of her culture. It helped us to understand why our family may have chosen to hide their Métis culture in the last century. We are working hard to gain back what has been lost from generations of silence. Tracey’s story validates what we are trying to do so that our culture, knowledge and experiences are not lost again to future generations.”
As an educator who teaches social studies to children in grade seven, Belinda believes it is “important for me to pass on what my family is learning about the Metis culture and history to my students.” Being at Painted Warriors and experiencing the Indigenous knowledge Tracey and Tim were sharing through their visitor experiences, was something very personal for Belinda. “My husband and children are Metis. My husband’s family comes from many HBC fur traders and their Indigenous wives. He has many descendants from the Red River Settlement who then migrated to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan area. His Indigenous history was hidden for a few generations but there were many stories told by cousins that they were Indigenous.” Learning wilderness skills from an Indigenous perspective, combined with the level of mastery Tracey and Tim both bring to their work, was something that deeply affected the family and has inspired them to want to learn more and return to Painted Warriors to learn the invaluable lessons that Tracey and Tim have to offer.
Lessons for the Future
Asked if she would recommend Painted Warriors to other families, Belinda is effusive: “There are so many different options to do that you will want to book multiple visits and different seasons. We definitely recommend snowshoeing and wilderness life skill activities.” The family plans to return in the near future to try archery and equestrian experiences. She’s confident they’ll learn new skills and gain more knowledge from Tracey and Tim as they try new activities on the ranch.
One thing is clear from the family’s experience at Painted Warriors and that is that Tracey and Tim have earned a place in their hearts and made them into returning visitors. “If you plan to go to Painted Warriors, it will not disappoint”, enthused Belinda after her time at the ranch. “There are so many different options to do that you will want to book multiple visits and different seasons. We definitely recommend snowshoeing and wilderness life skill activities.”
As she reflects back on her winter camping experience at Painted Warriors, it seems Belinda gained much more than new skills in the outdoors. “These amazing lessons will stay with us forever.”