The vast prairies of Saskatchewan are always austere and often harsh. Much like the terrain of the Dakotas or Southwestern Minnesota, the landscape is a vanishing point of flat fields and rolling hills, punctuated here and there by clumps of chokeberry and rapeseed trees. It's not characteristically beautiful, but it does have a certain appeal, especially if unending grassy fields, rushing winds, and blue skies are your thing.
*Top image: A fiery sunset reflected in the glass curtain wall at the Dakota Dunes. All photos by Ingrid MIsner.
Whitecap Dakota territory with the Dakota Dunes hotel in the distance.
16 miles south of Saskatoon, this area is the ancestral homeland of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation and the location of the Dakota Dunes hotel and casino. A collaboration between the First Nation, Lemaymichaud, and aobdt architecture + interior design, the Dakota Dunes aspires towards a synchrony with the surrounding land and the core principles of the Whitecap Dakota.
Summer skies over the Saskatchewan prairie as seen from the patio
Two core principles dominate the architectural concept: 1. concordance with the natural forms of the landscape and 2. overt resonance with the four elements: earth, water, fire, and air. The first manifests in the profusion of oblique angles in both the interior and exterior of the hotel. The black aluminum and glass curtain wall is fronted with decorative slanted wood elements, recalling the traditional Whitecap tipi. And all windows for guest rooms integrate slanted metal elements as well as trapezoidal forms painted in an earthy orange. Thus, the facade offers an artistic interpretation of traditional indigenous iconography.
Serpentining walkways—evoking the meandering path of the Saskatoon river
The formal architecture of the slanted line continues inside and throughout the various spaces that represent the four elements. The vast lobby welcomes visitors with dual cylindrical gas-burning fireplaces, capped with a conical flue that again evokes the traditional tipi.
Representative of fire, this space also features a large wall textured to duplicate the look of fire-cracked earth. A resplendent golden glow dominates the far end of the space, illuminating the reception desk and the wall behind it with the traditional Whitecap emblem in backlit onyx.
The corridor from the lobby to the bar celebrates water. The narrow passageway with its inset LEDs and wall of aqua green evokes the Saskatoon river and its historical function for transit of people and goods, "recalling the days when merchants had to navigate on water to go do business in town."
The bar/restaurant is all about earth. Featuring fresh selections of farm-to-table cuisine, the restaurant emphasizes traditional connections to the earth and the bounty it provides. Dedication to local sourcing evinces respect for the earth and its creatures. Earthy design elements include faceted wooden light fixtures and bar front, suggestive of the patterns of tree bark, and porcelain wall tiles with a diffuse design of neutral colors, recalling skies at dusk.
The earthen color palette of browns, grays, and black extends throughout the hotel, in furnishings, historic photography, and decorative elements showcasing moose and bison—yet another connection to the historical relationship between the Whitecap Nation and the land.
Lastly, air is the stuff of dreams. Just so, this element characterizes the guest rooms, with playful features like a mural of the Grand Chief's headdress (festooned with airy feathers), a decorative ceiling in mottled black and white, and floor to ceiling views of the expansive night sky.
The Dakota Dunes hotel is a particular point of pride for the Whitecap Dakota First Nation. As of October of 2022, the Whitecap Dakota territory is officially an autonomous self-governing First Nation—the first in Saskatchewan. The Dakota Dunes provides a compelling case study for how to integrate traditional indigenous principles and contemporary commerce.
Indoor rooftop pool
The Dakota Dunes has 155 guest rooms located on five floors with an indoor rooftop pool and a fitness center. Get further details at Dakota Dunes. And read more about the Whitecap Dakota First Nation here.