Not only is Tracey Klettl a national archery champion, her ancestors were some of the very first guides and scouts in Jasper National Park. Now, she continues to share those skills and experiences with visitors.
“My whole life, I’ve been kind of following what my ancestors did, without any really conscious thought to it,” says Tracey, whose first main job was as an outfitter and guide in the same national park. “We didn’t really keep our songs and stories, but my grandmother really taught us our land-based skills that we have.”
These land-based skills are exactly what visitors can expect to learn at Painted Warriors Ranch, which Tracey co-owns and -operates with her partner, Tim Mearns. On 80 acres of land southwest of Olds, Alberta, the ranch includes heated trapper tents, a riding arena, mezzanine area, ample wilderness, and opportunities to preserve and share traditions.
“There’s lots of places that offer trail rides where you’re put on the horse and then go for a beautiful ride in the mountains. And they’re great. But what sets us apart is that Indigenous perspective, because we go back into how the horse became a part of our culture,” explains Tracey. “Before they even ride the horse, they work with the horse on the ground and they build that connection.”
Tracey is a descendant of the Cree and Mohawk people from what is now Jasper National Park, and Tim is Saulteaux and a member of the Cote First Nations band. Before Painted Warriors, they taught archery and equine training for kids’ culture camps, and then decided they could create something incredibly unique.
Operating since 2010, Painted Warriors is one of the only facilities of its kind in all of Canada, so highly respected that even European groups send their guides to Alberta for certification. “They have such an appreciation of the vast wilderness we have here,” says Tracey. “There’s not many Indigenous training centres out there that work with training guides.” These groups mostly work in the tourism sector, including hiking guides, museum interpreters, horse wranglers, and even actors, coming to train in anything from wilderness first aid and horse packing to archery and hunting skills. Both Tracey and Tim are certified instructors in various programs, including Equine Canada Trail Riding, Hunter Education, Outdoor Council of Canada, and Standard and Advanced Equine First Aid.
They are both also archery championship winners on Team Canada. “We just started doing archery and liked it, and had this opportunity in 2011 to go and do it with the Canadian team, which was very cool,” says Tracey of her time in Austria for the World Championships. While she still competes once in a while, she shoots now to practice for hunting and to teach others. And she’s personally swapped her usual compound bow for a traditional one. “I think they’re the most beautiful bows in the world,” she shares. “I like the simplicity of it. But it’s also really unforgiving. It’s really just you and the bow.”
As a visitor to the ranch, you would train using a Genesis bow, a simple compound bow without a sight, so you get some assistance from the equipment while still learning traditional methods. Other visitor experiences, for both first-timers and outdoor experts, include glamping, snowshoeing, horseback riding, and wildlife tracking.
Whatever you choose, Tracey has one goal in mind: to help people reconnect. “You’re putting your cellphones away; you’re reconnecting to the land again. That one’s important—you’re reconnecting to old skills that somewhere in your history used to part of your daily life.”
You can find more information on Painted Warriors Ranch on their website (paintedwarriors.ca).
This article by Tamara Aschenbrenner appears in the January/February issue of Info Edmonton magazine.