You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience and security.

Skip to main content
Text Size:

For many visitors who take part in a medicine walk or workshop with Mahikan Trails, the isolation of the surrounding nature offers a welcome respite from the grind of daily life. For Brenda Holder and her staff, their primary goal is for those visitors to leave Mahikan Trails with a deeper connection to the land around them.

"That's my hope for everybody, is that they leave different,” says Brenda. “And what that means to me is that when they really connect to the land, that they've understood that it's not just the land that they've connected to. That they've learned how to connect to themselves in a different way, and they walk away different because of that."

Brenda Holder is a Cree knowledge keeper of traditional medicine. She incorporates this knowledge into her nature walks and hands-on workshops for her guests, with programs ranging from soap-making to plant-based first aid to “make your own medicine.” While some teachings are sacred and can’t be shared with everyone, Brenda firmly believes that sharing this knowledge fosters collective understanding and respect for the people and land around you.

The origin of Mahikan Trails

Brenda was inspired to start Mahikan Trails when she was working for the British military around 1995, taking soldiers out to walk on the land and share her knowledge.

“I realized there was some important work for me to do,” Brenda recalls. “And that was to help educate people about Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous ways of understanding the land. And one of the best ways to do that was actually through tourism.”

And so Mahikan Trails came into existence and quickly grew in popularity. While the walks were originally hosted in Canmore and Banff, Brenda saw an opportunity to offer her guests something different: an experience where they could enjoy uninterrupted time surrounded by nature.

From idea to reality

When Brenda came across a 161-acre plot of land north of Sundre, she knew it was the place for Mahikan Trails. “The whole feeling of the land was like coming home,” she said.  

Brenda moved her medicine walks and workshops to this land, sharing her knowledge with those who came. In true entrepreneurial spirit, she looked for ways to improve her business and listened to her visitors.


Once you get onto this land, when you see it, it's spectacular. And people felt that the experience wasn't complete because they were leaving at the end of each day and then coming back the next morning.

Brenda Holder, founder of Mahikan Trails

A group snowshoeing their way to the stargazing tent on the guided walk as the sun sets.

After many conversations and brainstorming, Brenda envisioned trapper-themed cabins for her guests to stay in, immsering visitors in the Mahikan Trails experience. Through Travel Alberta’s investment program, Brenda was able to build seven cabins and renovate her barn to reflect a trapper’s post establishing a venue for workshops and gatherings.

And all of these improvements were made with accessibility in mind.

“Whether it was people who had visual challenges or hearing challenges or physical challenges, we needed to make sure that it was a space that was going to be safe for everybody.”

The value of partnerships

Brenda is quick to credit her success to the partnerships she’s made with other local businesses.

“Tourism all over cannot be successful if you don't have partnerships.”

One such partnership is with her sister, Tracey Klettl. As the founder of Painted Warriors, Tracey offers accommodations on a ranch south of Sundre with operations that complement the experiences offered by Mahikan Trails.

“One of the other benefits of being a woman in tourism is getting to work with my sister and being able to feel what a force we can be together,” Brenda shares.

Brenda Holder, left, standing in a field with her sister, Tracey Klettl, right.

The experiences at Painted Warriors compliment what Brenda’s business offers. Painted Warriors focuses on sharing the Indigenous perspective on hunting, archery, and horsemanship, always in conjunction with stories and teachings. Similarly, Mahikan Trails focuses on the traditional aspect of outdoor culinary and survival skills, although for Brenda, it is more about sharing traditional living skills.

The big dream is to combine what Mahikan Trails’ skills and experiences are with Painted Warriors and to create the most amazing training facility for Indigenous guides anywhere in the country,” Brenda shares.

“The value of tourism, coming from an Indigenous person, is, in my mind, the new buffalo,” shares Brenda.

The buffalo (or bison) are sacred animals to Indigenous Peoples that hold cultural and spiritual significance. It was a source of food, tools, clothing and shelter. Though the buffalo population was significantly reduced due to colonization, many Indigenous communities are working to restore this important element of their cultural heritage.


[Tourism] is such an important way for us to connect to community, to continue the stories between youth and elder, to offer an educational opportunity to our guests to know who we are and to help people understand that the land is all that there is.

Brenda Holder, founder of Mahikan Trails

You may also be interested in