City of Calgary honoured to receive tipi and beaver song from Blackfoot Nation
On May 31, 2023, a Blackfoot Beaver Tipi and Traditional Song Transfer ceremony took place on the Aiss ka pooma land (English translation: Medicine Hill) here in Mohkinstsis (the Blackfoot name for Calgary, which translates to “elbow” in reference to the Elbow River). Traditional Knowledge Keepers from the Kainai/Blood Tribe Makoyipokaa, Bruce Wolf Child and Duane Mistaken Chief, facilitated the ceremony along with Blackfoot community members Anne Marie Wolf Child, Monte Eagle Plume, Mason, Sky, Drayden and Colby Wolf Child. Bruce Wolf Child has worked closely with the City of Calgary for nearly a decade, and the gifts come from the kindness of his heart—a core value of the Blackfoot Ways of Knowing.
Inside the beaver tipi, participants gathered with the Traditional Knowledge Keepers and their intergenerational lineage as they shared their wisdom of the Blackfoot nation’s rich history upon the Aiss ka pooma land, offered face painting blessings and performed the beaver songs.
In Blackfoot tradition, these gifts must be received by a male and female. Lorna Crowshoe, Issues Strategist, and Stuart Dalgleish, General Manager of the Planning and Development Services Department, participated in the ceremony and accepted the gifts on behalf of The City of Calgary. Mayor Jyoti Gondek and Ward 6 Councillor Richard Pootmans were also among the other honourable guests taking part in the ceremony.
"I’d like to express our sincerest gratitude to the Traditional Knowledge Keepers from the Blackfoot community for honouring us with these sacred gifts,” says Dalgleish. “Participating in this ceremony is something I will forever cherish as I continue this journey of living in truth and seeking reconciliation with all Indigenous people.”
The relationship between Bruce Wolf Child and the City of Calgary started in 2013, when Trinity Development proposed developing parts of Aiss ka pooma area into 710,000 sq ft. of residential, retail and office units. An engagement process began and, for the first time, Blackfoot people were invited to speak about development in their ancestral territory. As a Traditional Knowledge Keeper, Bruce Wolf Child investigated the cultural footprint of the land left behind by Blackfoot ancestors and has offered knowledge and guidance for the development to protect archaeological sites, help sustain the Blackfoot belief system and pay homage to the land upon which it sits—traditional ancestral territory the Blackfoot people began using as a buffalo kill site about 9,400 years ago.
“It’s been an invaluable educational process for the City of Calgary and Trinity,” says Lorna Crowshoe. “Bruce Wolf Child has given much of his time transferring knowledge and conducting ceremonies to instill in the corporation a better understanding of place.”
In the Blackfoot culture, Aiss ka pooma (Medicine Hill) is recognized as a place you return to annually for renewal. Rife with medicine, the buffalo and Blackfoot people would continually return to the slopes to sustain themselves. Today, the land is still recognized as a traditional medicinal site, and as a place of transition from the mountains to the foothills where all natural resources flow from; clean air, water, rain, snow and animals. It provides a natural filtering system to Calgary and is a gateway to the valley that welcomes resources from the west, in particular, the sacred healing springs.
“The land provides a coherent consciousness to the environment,” says Lorna Crowshoe. “Aiss ka pooma was a sacred place where plants, animals, rocks, water, water beings, air and earth, and all things tangible and intangible existed in harmony, allowing for a way of life that the Elders describe as being deeply connected to the natural cycles of all living things.”
Bruce Wolf Child’s gradual transfer of knowledge of the Aiss ka pooma land and its significance to the Blackfoot culture guided The City and Trinity in honouring that knowledge throughout the development, as did the guidance of the late Andy Black Water from Kainai Nation. Today, the site features things like bison tracks (with accurate gait) engraved into the concrete, sacred animal artwork, educational displays about the Blackfoot history including their tipi structure and connection to the Great Plains Bison (known as Iini to the Blackfoot people), natural foliage from the Aiss ka pooma slopes, Blackfoot pictographs, and so much more.
It was during the site tour last September when Bruce Wolf Child was introduced to these features of the development — inspired by his generous teachings and commemorating the Blackfoot people. As he sat in the circle of beaver art, the beaver song came to him, as did the notion to gift The City. He sang the song and announced his intention in his opening blessing that day.
The gifts hold meaningful weight. Beavers — the muse of the song — are sacred protectors to the Blackfoot community. They also appear on the tipi and are marked with an arrow and two dots to denote the lifeline and kidneys, symbolizing sustainment and cleansing of the body. The song and tipi are for the City of Calgary to use, share and honour how we wish.
“It has been a meaningful process seeing this historical site recognized throughout the Medicine Hills development,” says Dalgleish. “Balancing development with environment and incorporating Indigenous concepts is a privilege critical in the planning and growth of Calgary as a fully inclusive and anti-racist city.”
“I was incredibly touched to play a small part in this important ceremony,” says Cllr. Pootmans. “Looking ahead, I challenge all of the leaders here today to collaborate and support efforts to bring this history and this emotional bond to the public in a permanent way.”
It is with immense gratitude that the corporation accepts this gesture from the Blackfoot Traditional Knowledge Keepers. We honour the responsibility and stewardship entrusted in them with these gifts as they further their work toward reconciliation, renewing their relationship with Indigenous peoples, and working together with respect, co-operation and partnership.
“I would like to not only express my gratitude to the traditional knowledge keepers Bruce Wolf Child and Duane Mistaken Chief,” says Mayor Gondek. “I also give our commitment that both Stuart Dalgleish and Lorna Crowshoe will be good stewards of these gifts. We will treat these gifts with the respect and reverence they deserve.”
For more information on the City of Calgary’s commitment to Truth & Reconciliation, visit Truth and Reconciliation (calgary.ca).