Written by: Blair First Rider and Laura Golebiowski, Aboriginal Consultation Advisers
Oki! For many of us, the spring season represents new life and a fresh start. But did you know, in Blackfoot culture, the new year begins in the spring? Aboriginal Consultation Advisers Blair First Rider and Laura Golebiowski, both based in Treaty 7, discuss the significance of the seasonal round: a concept that not only structures the year, but also our relationships to the land and one another.
We meet today on Kainai Nation at an area called Weasel Fat Bottom, a flood plain on the south side of the Oldman River. These flats also served as an ideal traditional camping location, with proximity to water, cottonwood tree stands and grazing areas. The trees provide shelter from the wind, and beneath them medicinal plants and berries grow. We are here to learn about the seasonal round: a concept that has guided the travel, occupation and relationships of the Niitsitapi (how the Blackfoot refer to themselves, translating to “the real people”) since time immemorial, and one that still has important teachings today.
In the old days, Sky Being Ksisstsi’ko’m (Thunder) gave the Niitsitapi the Thunder Medicine Pipe Bundle. The pipe offered protection, as well as a promise that Ksisstsi’ko’m would bring the rains that would make the berries grow large and ripe. Accordingly, the new year is marked by the first clap of thunder of the first rainstorm. It is commemorated with ceremony: the gathering of the seven Societies and the opening of the sacred bundles. Through prayer, song and dance, the relationships and commitments between Niitsitapi and the Creator, the Sky Beings and the land, are renewed and affirmed. As Betty Bastien wrote in Blackfoot Ways of Knowing: the Worldview of the Siksikaitsitapi, “During these ceremonies we acknowledge and give thanks to our alliances for another cycle. We ask for continued protection, prosperity, long life, growth, and strength.”
March 8 was International Women’s Day; a day acknowledged around the world to raise awareness of issues facing women, such as gender equity, and to celebrate the social, cultural and political achievements that have been made by women to their communities, regions and nations. The map was launched on that day as part of those annual celebrations.
Through history, the recognition of women has tended to be forgotten. For generations, women have been largely voiceless in history; overlooked by default and design. The essential domestic role of settler women has not been discussed to the same extent as the work of their husbands, fathers and brothers breaking the land, even though these women toiled and suffered just as men had. Even women who were admitted to the professional, scientific or professional world have often seen their accomplishments ignored or downplayed in favour of those of their male colleagues. The same trends are found in the world of cartography and place naming.
Written by: Dane Ryksen (History undergraduate, University of Alberta)
Editor’s note: Since 2017, Dane Ryksen has been documenting Edmonton’s built heritage on Instragram. Follow @_citizen_dane_ for even more of his research and photography. All photos below were taken by Ryksen unless otherwise noted.
Symbology of all kinds litters the facades of Edmonton’s Bowker Building. Up, down, left, right, there’s something to be found. The Chief and arms. The Wild Rose, symbolizing Alberta itself. The heads of bison, symbolizing power, strength and durability. The Queen’s Crown on each door handle, symbolizing the monarchy. Even its long-time name, ‘The Natural Resources Building,’ a symbol of Alberta’s bountiful wealth.
For being in the throes of the Great Depression, all its bangles, wingdings and baubles may have seemed like another instance of government waste. But for the United Farmers of Alberta it came with good reason. When they commissioned the building it was seen as righting a fifteen-year-old wrong.
Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta
A butchered bison leaves bones behind; a fur trade post leaves rotting walls for archaeologists to discover. But humans are more than what we eat and build. To many, our lives are defined by relationships to other people. How do archaeologists in Alberta uncover and reconstruct human relations from 10,000 years ago when not much preserves in the soil?
Archaeologists use microscopic clues to link stone artifacts back to the quarries where the rock originated; this “provenance” work can reveal ancient networks. In a blend of geochemistry and sociology, researchers use volcanic rocks in particular to understand how groups interacted and moved across landscapes for millennia.
Editor’s note: From the largest student occupation in Canadian history to larger-than-life historical figures, here are handful of laws, events and people that contributed to the Black experience here in Canada. Follow the links below for more in-depth information on these events and people.
Written by: Garnett Glashen
Viola Desmond Not only was Viola Desmond a successful businesswoman in Nova Scotia, she was an advocate for equal and fair treatment of Black people at a time when they were viewed as lesser peoples in Canada. Many will note that Viola Desmond recently became the first woman of colour to be enshrined on any Canadian currency, however few know the battles that were led by Viola Desmond, to provide an equal opportunity for Black Canadians to acquire skills, enter trades and participate in social activities that were traditionally reserved for people who weren’t Black.
Editor’s note: In our continued recognition of Black History Month, the Provincial Archives of Alberta has shared a collection of portraits of Black Albertans from photographer Ernest Brown. The Ernest Brown fonds contain around 50,000 negatives and other materials, predominantly from the years 1880-1960.
One of the earliest professional photographers in Alberta, Ernest Brown moved to Edmonton from England in April 1904. In Edmonton, Brown went to work as an assistant to C.W. Mathers, the city’s first photographer. Three months later, Brown bought the rights to Mathers’ portrait studio and in 1905 the studio expanded into the Ernest Brown Company Ltd.
Little is known about the subjects in the photographs below. Likely, the only records kept from these photo sessions was the name of the person who booked and paid for the session.
Editor’s note: In our continuing recognition of Black History Month, RETROactive contributors from the Provincial Archives of Alberta highlight some of the resources available for researchers wanting to know more about the history of Alberta’s Black community.
Written by: Michael Gourlie, Government Records Archivist and Karen Simonson, Reference Archivist
Researching the history of Black communities in Alberta can be challenging. Sources can be limited and potentially scattered among many institutions within Alberta’s heritage communities. Much of the access is dependent on knowing a person’s name or having some additional background clues or information. But the history of Alberta’s Black communities can be teased out of the records preserved by the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA), and all the resources described below are available for researchers to see and consult for themselves during regular opening hours of the reading room.
In addition to published books and newspapers providing context to the community, the PAA is fortunate to have received donations of records from private individuals such as Fil Fraser, Selwyn Jacob and Junetta Jamerson. While these records can only tell part of the story, looking more closely at some familiar holdings at the PAA reveals perhaps some unexplored and unexpected traces of Alberta’s Black history.
Written by: Ron Kelland, MA, MLIS, Geographical Names Program Coordinator
February is Black History Month, a time dedicated for the commemoration of the history, heritage and legacy of the Black community in Canada. Since 2009, Canada Post has produced a series of commemorative postage stamps recognizing aspects of Canada’s Black community. These stamps have featured individuals and communities as well as military contributions and sporting accomplishments. In 2012, John Ware, southern Alberta’s famous Black cowboy and rancher was featured.
This year, Canada Post turned the spotlight once again to Alberta, this time producing a stamp recognizing the community of Amber Valley.
Editor’s note: This week, RETROactive is pleased to share another post written by historical researcher Matt Hiltermann, on behalf of the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3. Matt recently wrote about the Métis of Rouleaville.
Written by: Matt Hiltermann
When Albertans hear the Lougheed name, they likely think of late premier Peter Lougheed. Others may may also be familiar with his grandfather, Sir James Alex Lougheed. Much less discussed, however, is the matriarch of the Lougheed family: Lady Isabella Clark Hardisty Lougheed.
To the extent that history has focused on rich, white men, this is unsurprising if disappointing. At the same time, Isabella was widely regarded as the driving force behind her husband. She and her Hardisty kin also formed the nucleus of the Lougheed family. All evidence seems to point to her being a binding force in both her family and the community at large. Who was this Métis matriarch, and how did she become the “First Lady of the Northwest?”
Isabella Hardisty was born around 1861 at Fort Resolution in what is now the Northwest Territories. Her father, William Lucas Hardisty, was one of only four Métis men to attain the rank of Chief Factor between 1851 and 1869. Her mother was Mary Anne Allen, a Métisse of obscure origins. Both of her parents’ families had intergenerational ties to the fur trade.
Written by: Jared Majeski, Historic Resources Management Branch
For his decades-long work as an archaeologist, curator and author helping to promote and preserve Blackfoot Culture, former Historic Resources Management Branch and Royal Alberta Museum staff member Jack Brink was recently named a member of the Order of Canada. He became part of this illustrious group along with a handful of other Albertans, including: Daniel Steadward, a lifelong Paralympic advocate; Dr. Lori West, who directed transplant immunology research at the U of A; and Art Bergmann, a prolific punk rock musician both as a solo artist and member of the legendary Young Canadians.
Blair First Rider, an Aboriginal Consultation Advisor with the Alberta government, worked with Jack for a number of years on, among other things, the cultural resource management file; this included work at Writing-on-Stone, Head-Smash-In Buffalo Jump and the Okotoks Erratic. In honour of Jack’s work with The Blackfoot Confederacy and Treaty 7, he was given the honourary Blackfoot name Owl Head.
“Jack has earned his name as a way of acknowledging his support and efforts of reconciliation, repatriation and preserving the archaeological record of the sacred sites and cultural resources we are entrusted with as stewards of the land,” First Rider explained.
Understanding and preserving Indigenous history and culture, in this era of reconciliation, is done in numerous ways. One way is through archaeology, a field Brink has worked in for much of his professional life. He mentions that through archaeology, we can begin to understand the great accomplishments Indigenous people who have lived in Alberta (and Canada) for thousands of years.
“I think when the general public learn more about the deep past of Indigenous people,” Brink said, “we [can] make steps forward in terms of truth and reconciliation. The ‘past’ is a great part of the true story of Indigenous people on this continent. Most people are unaware of it, and as they learn more they come to respect the success of indigenous people surviving on this land under challenging conditions for such a long period of time. I believe that this builds an appreciation of what Indigenous people have accomplished and contributed.”
Former colleagues at the Royal Alberta Museum, where Jack worked for over 25 years, recall lessons learned from one the country’s preeminent archaeologist and curator. Assistant Archaeologist Bob Dawe mentioned that, “Jack is an excellent teacher and writer with enviable communication skills. The most beneficial enduring advice he taught me was how to be more succinct with writing and lecturing – cut to the chase rather than clutter scholarly publications and conference presentations with time wasting less relevant material. Other than this extremely helpful lesson, he didn’t belabor advice as much as lead by example.”
Acting Curator of Archaeology Kris Fedyniak worked with Brink on the ultimately successful bid for Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “Through the numerous and lengthy United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization application bids, Jack taught me the importance of perseverance. A ‘no’ sometimes means you have to reset, reframe and try again.”
Recognition of a professional archaeologist at such a high level will hopefully inspire younger generations to not only recognize the important role archaeology and science play in our world, but to pursue a career in the field.
“I think recognition by the Governor General’s office is recognition of the power of archaeology to do good in this world,” Brink said, “to help reveal impressive stories about past cultures and to do so in a respectful way. I would hope that this would have a positive effect on young people who may be considering a career in archaeology; that it would make them aware that significant achievements can be made in the field of archaeology and that a great career can come from it.”