As Indigenous Awareness Week has come to an end for 2023, we thank Iikaisskini Indigenous Services and everyone who organized or engaged in the many events and opportunities across campus!
We are reminded of the importance of bringing people together to learn about and to celebrate Indigenous culture and heritage, to build relationships and facilitate cooperation as we continue the important work towards reconciliation.
“What Indigenous Awareness Week does is bring people together. In my words, it's all about relationships,” says Iikaisskini (Low Horn) Dr. Leroy Little Bear (BASc (BA) ’72, DASc ’04), vice-provost, Iniskim Indigenous Relations.
There were many opportunities to cultivate relationships throughout the week, beginning with a traditional pipe offering ceremony, followed by the opening ceremony and Blackfoot naming ceremony on Monday.
Four esteemed members of the ULethbridge community were honoured to receive a Blackfoot name and recognized for helping our community make great strides in the reconciliation process.
Dr. Erasmus Okine, Provost and Vice-President (Academic)
Ninaisamo’too (Nina Somotu)
“man who arrived a long time ago”
Martha Mathurin-Moe, Vice-Provost (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion)
“arrived a long time ago”
Mike Whipple (BA ’03), Executive Director, President and Provost Offices
Isstsipísimaa’tsis (Istsip pi sim atsis)
Dr. Kerry Godfrey, Vice-Provost (Calgary) and Dean, Dhillon School of Business
E gim mi Nitsitapi (A kim-mi nitsit-api)
“man has a heart of real people or Indigenous people”
There was also a round dance and honour dance for outgoing President and Vice-Chancellor Iipisowaahsiiyi (Morning Star) Dr. Mike Mahon and Chancellor Taatsiikiipoyii (Talks in the Middle) Charles Weaselhead, who participated in the final Indigenous Awareness Week of their respective terms.
“I have great appreciation for the work the University has undertaken over the course of President Mahon’s tenure. As president, his commitment to relationship building has been essential to the advances we have made, and I want to personally thank him and recognize the impact of that work,” says Little Bear.
“The same can be said for Charlie, a man who has always been such a great figure in terms of bringing people together,” he says. “It is often said that it doesn’t cost any money to have relationships, but what they need is time and nurturing and Charlie is one of the most skillful people I’ve seen in bringing people together and then cultivating those relationships. He too deserves special recognition for his work as chancellor.”
Following the ceremony, everyone was treated to a delicious lunch of Indigenous tacos, berry soup and fry bread, organized by Iikaisskini Indigenous Services.
On Tuesday, the Art Gallery opened a special display featuring artworks by Indigenous artists with a blend of historical and contemporary works from across Canada. It was a small but vivid sampling from thousands of Indigenous artworks held in the University collection. The exhibit welcomed visitors to the Hess Gallery throughout the week. The library also curated a thoughtful display of books, movies and even a puzzle from Indigenous authors, producers and directors.
It was also a day for creation in the Agility Innovation Zone, as visitors could participate in the Oki sign sticker, button and T-shirt making event. The drama department hosted a workshop with storytelling by Blackfoot Elders with the Making Treaty Seven Cultural Society, and the Department of Indigenous Studies hosted a viewing and discussion of two feature films created by Indigenous writers, directors and producers.
The School of Graduate Studies, in partnership with Iikaisskini Indigenous Services, also organized a seminar highlighting the work of Indigenous graduate students, hoping to spark that drive in other students, and convey the importance of their work. Students showcased their academic work and spoke about their first-hand experience as graduate students.
It was a historic day on Wednesday as the University became the first post-secondary institution to sign as a supporter of the Buffalo Treaty!
President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Mike Mahon, signed the treaty, joining the City of Lethbridge, with members of city council and Mayor Blaine Hyggen, and the Piikani Nation, represented by Chief Troy Knowlton and members of council, as signatories.
The Buffalo Treaty, a treaty of cooperation, renewal and restoration, was born out of graduate research work Paulette Fox (MSc ’05) was conducting in environmental science. Her conversations with Elders included the issue of the buffalo and its importance in Indigenous culture.
“The Elders were saying how important the buffalo is for our land and our culture, songs, stories and ceremonies. And they talked about how our youth hear these stories and sing the songs and even participate in the ceremonies but when they look outside, there are no buffalo to be seen,” says Little Bear. “We wanted to bring the buffalo back so our youth could make those connections again.”
The Buffalo Treaty was first signed on September 24, 2014, at the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, to honour, recognize and revitalize the time immemorial relationship with buffalo. It was initially signed by four American and four Canadian First Nations, the first treaty to be signed between Indigenous Peoples in more than 150 years. In the years since, nearly 50 First Nations have been added as signatories.
Hundreds of individuals and organizations have also signed as supporters in agreement to work toward the educational and environmental objectives of the Buffalo Treaty. Many lined up in Science Commons Atrium on Wednesday for the honour to sign in support. Read the full news release here.
Prior to the treaty signing, special guests Wes Olson and Johane Janelle shared a presentation based on their research and book titled The Ecological Buffalo: On the Trail of a Keystone Species. Based on Wes Olson’s 35 years of working intimately with bison – and featuring Johane Janelle’s stunning photography – The Ecological Buffalo takes a journey through the myriad of connections this keystone species has with the Great Plains. Many attended the presentation and formed a long line afterwards to have their copy of The Ecological Buffalo signed by the authors.
Thursday’s events kicked off with Dhillon School of Business faculty member, Don McIntyre, and his discussion Tell Me a Story, Tell Me No Lies: Reconciling Truth in a Post-truth Era.
In the afternoon, Mootookakio’ssin’s Duck Moon event in the Iikaisskini (Low Horn) Gathering Centre included making small clay sculptures and 3D printing.
Later in the evening, the newly ratified Indigenous Students Association hosted the All My Relations “Nikso’kowaisi” launch party in the Students’ Union Ballroom. The evening included live music and an open mic, dancing, refreshments, games and prizes. The event was open to all ages, and many came out to meet new people and socialize.
Rounding out the evening was a webinar - Weather Story with Api’soomaahka (William Singer III). It was part of ULethbridge Art Gallery’s series of free, one-hour long storytelling sessions about the weather from diverse perspectives. The online storytelling events, titled Weather Stories, are organized by Lisa Hirmer. They bring together scientists, Indigenous Elders, artists, poets, gardeners and activists from diverse backgrounds to tell tales about their experiences of weather.
The week wrapped up on Friday with two painting sessions called “Bob Ross but Blackfoot.”
Artist and ULethbridge student Chataya Holy Singer and Santanita Oka (Indigenous mental health outreach) guided the painting tutorial. Participants learned about Blackfoot cosmology, star stories, and how to paint the night sky using some of the Blackfoot cosmos symbols. The event itself was truly a masterpiece.