About a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, Laura Sitting Eagle was feeling unwell. The Blackfoot Elder, who resides on Siksika 146 – a First Nations reserve of the Siksika Nation in southern Alberta, 87km south-east of Calgary – went to see her doctor and was informed that anxiety was the issue. With a daughter working as a frontline healthcare worker and a school vice-principal son, she was worried for the health of her family and the stress was affecting her own wellbeing. She realised that she needed to get emotional, spiritual, physical and mental balance.
As her ancestors before her had done, she found relief in making a trek to the medicine wheel called Iniskim Umaapi to pray and make a spiritual offering.
One of the oldest religious monuments in the world, the medicine wheel sits on a windswept hill far from any signs of civilisation. It consists of a central cairn surrounded by 28 radiating stone lines that are encircled by another large ring of stones measuring 27m in diameter. The Blackfoot have many names for it, but the current commonly accepted name is Iniskim Umaapi, which means "buffalo calling stones sacred site". European colonists named the stone circle Majorville Medicine Wheel, after the Majorville post office and general store that was once nearby. Settlers called these structures medicine wheels because they resemble wagon wheels and are considered sacred sites by Indigenous People. Regardless of their name, these enigmatic geoglyphs are shrouded in mystery – Iniskim Umaapi more so than any others.
Medicine wheels are scattered across the Northern Plains, in Montana, Wyoming, Saskatchewan and Alberta, but Iniskim Umaapi is the oldest-known one in the world. Archaeological studies estimate the ancient stone circle to be about 5,000 years old – dating roughly the same time as the first phase of construction of Stonehenge. Located on England's Salisbury Plain, Stonehenge is thousands of kilometres and an ocean apart from Iniskim Umaapi. The fact that both stone circles are ancient and have mysterious purposes and origins led to Iniskim Umaapi being dubbed "Canada's Stonehenge" by Gordon R Freeman, professor emeritus at the University of Alberta.