The skull of a bison which once roamed the Canadian prairies more than 2,000 years ago was welcomed by the Siksika Nation, in southern Alberta, during a traditional ceremony on Friday.
"It's like a welcome home to the buffalo skull," said Siksika Nation councillor Eldon Weasel Child. He led part of the blessing ceremony where the skull was received at the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park.
"To have something that has been a part of our way of life for literally centuries is going to bring up a lot of visitors from the community, and from outside of our community as well."
Bison have been important to the Blackfoot people since time immemorial and their skulls are used in sacred ceremonies, said Weasel Child.
"It is not just something you hang on the wall," he said.
The blessing ceremony held to receive the skull was led by members the Siksika community and attendees included people of all ages.
Rattles held by people seated in a loose circle were played in time to the singing of Blackfoot honour songs. Drums were also beat as more music continued between short speeches.
Sixteen-year-old Annie McMaster, this year's Miss Teen Siksika Nation Princess was also there.
"It felt really powerful," McMaster said, noting that the skull was already bringing people together.
In February, the skull was unearthed while contractors for Fortis Alberta were installing new street lights in Banff, said Fortis spokesman Kevin Haslbeck.
In the midst of blasting the ground with high pressure water, the skull was discovered more than a metre below the earth. Soon after, the workers contacted Parks Canada.
The skull was then carbon dated and found to be approximately 2,400 years old.
After temporarily being held by Parks Canada, the skull was ceremoniously transferred to the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, east of Calgary, which was the site of the signing of Treaty 7 in 1877.
"There were many different uses of the land for our people in that particular part of the country ... so to have a buffalo skull that is two thousand years old returned to us, that is very, very significant," said Weasel Child.
Though the Siksika Nation lies on the prairie some 200 kilometres east of Banff, Weasel Child said the Rocky Mountains are part of the Blackfoot's traditional territory. He added his people used to have winter camps and harvest timber there for tipis.
The skull will be on permanent display at at the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park in the new year as part of a full exhibit dedicated to Blackfoot heritage.