Tag Archives: teepee

Medicine Hat

Photo by ffunyman (flickr)

Finding out the origins of the name Moose Jaw yesterday I started to wonder about the other prairie city with a funny name, Medicine Hat, Alberta so I looked it up.

The name Medicine Hat is an English translation of the Blackfoot word “Saamis.” A saamis is the headdress worn by medicine men, and therefore is a “Medicine Hat.” According to Wikipedia, there are “several” legends associated with Medicine Hat.

One story tells of in incredibly tough winter for the Blackfoot people. The elders chose a young man to try to save his nation, and he set off with his wife and dog to the “breathing hole,” a hole in the ice of the South Saskatchewan River located in modern-day Medicine Hat. The Blackfoot believed that this is where the spirits came to breathe. After they arrived the man and his wife summoned the spirits and a giant serpent came from the water. The serpent said that if the young man sacrificed his wife, he would receive a saamis, which would give him special powers and make him a great hunter. The man tried to sacrifice his dog instead, but the serpent figured out what was going on and required the wife, so, the man threw his wife into the breathing hole and the serpent was satisfied. The serpent told the man to spend the night on a nearby island and in the morning he would find his medicine hat at the base of the nearby cliffs. He did, and with his newfound hunting skills and magical powers was able to keep his people alive through the winter and became a great medicine man.

Another story simply tells of a battle between the Blackfoot and the Cree, and during a retreat a medicine man lost his headdress in the South Saskatchewan River.

So, what is there in Medicine Hat? I’ve eaten at the Greyhound station, but it’s probably best known for having the world’s largest teepee, visible at the side of the Trans-Canada highway as you go through town.