The art, culture and lifestyle of the First Nations people of Canada are showcased in the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum

The picturesque location of the museum rivals the beauty of the artefacts within its walls. The Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum is located in the Town of Banff, Alberta province of Canada, and along the Bow River, with the magnificent Rocky Mountains forming the backdrop. The Town of Banff itself is situated within the very scenic and much visited Banff National Park.

On view inside are authentic First Nations’ artefacts, drawn from personal collections and the Glenbow Museum. This museum has its origins in the collection of Norman Luxton, a pioneer and prominent citizen of Banff, who worked to improve the local community. He once operated a trading post in this area. He also contributed to bettering the relationship between the town's inhabitants and the natives. Norman began to build an art museum in the early 1950s with the assistance of Eric Harvie, founder of the Glenbow Museum. The museum was established finally in 1953. It was originally known as the Luxton Museum of the Plains Indian.

The sign at the entrance sums up the purpose of this museum - it is “dedicated to the appreciation, interpretation, demonstration and display of the cultures, traditions, and values of the First Nations people of North America and their trading partners. The museum seeks to show how the people of this land lived and adapted to their surroundings and each other” both before and after contact with European culture.

Hundreds of exhibits

In other words, the riverside museum tells the story of the earliest inhabitants of this region, the First Nations people of the Plains. The building is impressive with its log cabin look. It is a bit like a small rustic-style fortress. There are hundreds of exhibits and realistic dioramas. Some are within glass cases, others hanging on walls and the rest are displayed as tableaux or a single bust that forms a desktop display. Most of them sport flamboyant colours much like the art and craft of these people, which you see on sale across Canada.

Once you enter, among the first things you see is a large tepee (as they were called by First Nations people) i.e. a tent and beside it a large sled-dog team. Wandering through the gallery, other scenes from aboriginal lives unfold: a woman sits outside her tent with children and cows, while her husband (presumably) checks out his horse and cart; another section recreates the interiors of a tepee, where a family sits around in traditional clothes. All life-size displays. Local wildlife including birds ( stuffed) are on disiplay in another enclosure.

Aboriginal clothing including richly ornamented ceremonial outfits are on show encased in glass and not on mannequins. You see quill work, beadwork, musical instruments including a love flute, weapons and hunting implements along with the animals used in hunting, statues, busts and photographs. Everything has been recreated and arranged aesthetically.

If you are lucky, a native will be there to act as a guide and show you around. We were not so fortunate as we were the only ones in the museum at that time (save the manager at the entrance) but then everything has an information card so you get to know the provenance of the exhibits. For us, being the only ones there meant that we could see the place at our leisure, walk back and forth freely and utilise as many photo-ops as we wanted.

For the uninitiated, the art and culture of the aboriginals of Canada and their way of life are all part of traditions which are thousands of years old. There are an estimated 600 such communities in Canada and they are often referred to as First Nations people, aboriginals or native Canadians. Their life and culture have formed a fascinating subject of study for academicians - from historians (including art historians) to sociologists.

The Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum is one of the several across Canada that showcase the First Nations people's culture and offer glimpses of the way they lived. They illuminate a lost world. All these museums are tourist draws. Since they have educational value they also receive a lot of school and college students beside research scholars. Enhancing the value of the Buffalo Luxton museum are the year-round activities when the museum collaborates with First Nations artists of various kinds such as musicians, craftsmen and artisans, to present live demos and performances.