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Love Thy Neighbour: Repatriating Precarious Blackfoot Sites

Authors: Cynthia M. Chambers & Narcisse J. Blood

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A Storied and Sacred Place

It would be easy to assume from this story that Náápiikoaiksi had the power to erase the people’s memory and that little or no knowledge of the land could survive their exercising this power. But this is not so. Stories, along with songs and ceremonies, have kept the knowledge alive, even when memory of actual places has faded. It could be said that all places within kitáóowahsinnoon are significant to the Siksikáítapiiksi. Some mark events and places of significance: vision quests, burials, effigies (human and animal), offerings, rock cairns, battles and other events. Some were places of sustenance: buffalo jumps and pounds, root and berry picking spots, campsites, tipi rings, trails, and river crossings. Others are sites of creation (Sun and Moon and coming of light): the antics of creator and trickster, Náápi; and, the heroic deeds of Katoyís who rid the world of harmful beings (Bullchild, 2005). Other places are the origin of the bundles and spiritual societies. Others are sites of mortality and portals to the world of Siksikáítapiiksi’s ancestors and papáítapiksi (dream beings). In Blackfoot, it is said about such places, “There is a holy presence there;” and in English, kitáóowahsinnoon has been called a “sacred landscape” (Reeves, 1993; Vest, 2005).

It is also a storied landscape. People received the laws or values at places such as Aakíípisskan (Women’s Buffalo Jump near Cayley, Alberta), where the people not only hunted buffalo but where Náápi initiated the first marriage between men and women, and Óóhkotok (near present-day Okotoks, Alberta) where Náápi was taught the importance gift giving and the consequences of going back on your word or your gift. Many stories are written directly on the land such as at Aisinai’pi (Writing-on-Stone, Alberta) where petroglyphs and pictographs cover the sandstone cliffs. Ceremonial sites–marked by rock cairns and constellations accompanied by paintings, carvings and offerings (often called “medicine wheels”)–are found throughout central and southern Alberta.

For Siksikáítapiiksi, these places are not simply piles of rocks, cliffs, or glacial erratics; they are places imbued with meaning and history. These places are the equivalent of books, encyclopedias, libraries, archives, crypts, monuments, historical markers, and grottos; they are destinations for pilgrims; places of sacrifice, revelation and apparition; and sources of knowledge and wisdom. For Siksikáítapiiksi, these places are repositories for the knowledge left by the ancestors. Kitáóowahsinnoon–and the ancestors and other holy presences who inhabit this landscape–is an animate being with powers of its own. Siksikáítapiiksi have played their part in keeping the memory and knowledge these animate beings bear alive the continual enactment of the songs, ceremonies and stories. In this way, much knowledge has survived the onslaught of colonialism.

Next Section: Precarious Places

Last updated: March 31, 2009
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