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.”
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.”
Editor’s Note: November 15- 21 is Métis Week: an opportunity to recognize the culture, history and contributions of Métis people to Alberta and across the country. The following post is written by Matt Hiltermann on behalf of Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3. Through extensive research of census records and archival material, Matt tells the story of the many Métis families who lived at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers, and who contributed to the social fabric of Rouleauville—one of Calgary’s oldest neighbourhoods.
Communities do not spring from the soil fully formed; rather, they tend to coalesce around existing population centres, important trade routes, and/or vital resources, among other things. As a fording place for the buffalo herds, the area that would become Calgary and its environs was an important gathering place for the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) and their Tsuut’ina and Stoney Nakoda allies since time immemorial.  Due to its status as a gathering place rich in resources, by the mid-19th century, Métis freeman bands with kin ties to the Tsuut’ina or Niitsitapi began to visit these peoples along the Bow.  These Métis freemen acted as middlemen in the ever-important pemmican trade that fueled the Hudson Bay Company’s (HBC) northern trading posts, brigades and the fur trade more broadly.
Written by: Blair First Rider and Laura Golebiowski, Aboriginal Consultation Advisers
Editor’s note: Oki! June is National Indigenous History Month, an invitation to honour the history, diversity, strength and contemporary achievements of Indigenous peoples. Aboriginal Consultation Advisers Blair First Rider and Laura Golebiowski, both based in Treaty 7 territory, met at the Okotoks Erratic this spring to discuss the significance of the site to the Blackfoot Confederacy.
If you’ve ever travelled southwest of Calgary and witnessed a towering mass of quartzite stand out among the prairie landscape, you are continuing a tradition that Indigenous peoples have done since time immemorial. The 16,500-tonne boulder is colloquially known as the “Big Rock,” but in Blackfoot it is Okotoks—the direct translation of the word “rocks.”
The erratic is a wildly impressive and imposing sight. However, there is more here than immediately meets the eye. For the Blackfoot, this is a location where the world began; where supernatural mischief-maker Napi was pursued by the rock as he traveled from south to north, creating the mountains and rivers.
June is Indigenous Peoples’ Month, a time to honour the heritage and culture of First Peoples in Canada. June 21 also marks the annual National Indigenous Peoples Day. Here in Alberta , there are events happening around the province to celebrate the unique histories, cultures and contributions from First Nations, Métis and Inuit heritages.
Indigenous people have for thousands of years relied on the tradition of oral storytelling to pass down their history to future generations.
A few years ago, the Siksika Consultation Office received an Alberta Historical Resources Foundation grant and produced these two beautifully-shot vignettes featuring two significant stories from Blackfoot culture.
The first tells the story of Crowsnest Mountain and the birth of seasons. The second tells the story of the first marriages, based around Women’s Buffalo Jump south of present-day Cayley, Alberta.
Thanks to the Siksika Consultation Office for letting us share these important stories.