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Love Thy Neighbour: Repatriating Precarious Blackfoot Sites

Authors: Cynthia M. Chambers & Narcisse J. Blood

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Conclusion: Are the Three Ps Enough?

The Alberta government has implemented policies to involve Siksikáítapiiksi in preserving and protecting significant sites in kitáóowahsinnoon. The Aboriginal Consultation section of the Heritage Resources Management Branch consults the Blackfoot Elders Committee:i (1) to locate important but currently unprotected sites, (2) to ascertain Siksikáítapiiksi knowledge about specific sites in an effort to better preserve them, and (3) to ascertain Siksikáítapiiksi perspective on the sites to better protect them from the actions of other government departments, industry, and the visiting public.

Preservation, protection and perspective: is that enough? Siksikáítapiiksi participation in the ongoing care of kitáóowahsinnoon is at the behest of current policy initiatives and caring civil servants; it is not enshrined in law or treaty or at least the way Treaty 7 is currently interpreted by the government (Treaty 7 Elders et al., 1996). The province of Alberta has jurisdiction over these sites.

Given this, perhaps Siksikáítapiiksi must continue to repatriate kitáóowahsinnoon to ensure authentic participation in the preservation, protection and use of these sites. Siksikáítapiiksi perspective cannot be given or transferred; it must be experienced and learned in the act of being at these places, visiting them. Repatriation is a form of resistance, a way of taking back much of what once belonged to the people, a way of turning trauma into healing (Thompson & Todd, 2003). Frank Weasel Head (personal communication, June 28, 2006) believes the return of the bundles does more to heal a community than any government action or program.ii For Siksikáítapiiksi repatriating these sites means preserving and protecting them by using them in the way they were intended: visiting the sites, making offerings, feeding the sites, and performing ceremonies at them. Like Carolla Calf Robe and her pilgrimage to Sun Dial and the late Rufus Good Striker and his vision quest at Óóhkotok, like the students from the Summer Institute taking their families to these sites, and like Ramona Big Head, a teacher from the Institute who brought 30 Káínaa High School students to visit these sites, many for the first time. Just as Siksikáítapiiksi brought the bundles home so they could be cared for, and in turn, care for the people; to visit these sites and care for them, in the Blackfoot way, means these places will, in turn, care for the people, not only the Blackfoot but all people, all beings who are nourished by these places. Like the bundles, the prayers and the ceremonies, these sites are meant to help and care for everyone and everything, not just human beings.

This is the Siksikáítapiiksi belief. In the prayers, Siksikáítapiiksi invoke IIhstsipáítapiiyo’pa, the Source, to bring understanding and wisdom to everyone, to call for blessings and safekeeping for everyone, and to understand that the land is here to nurture all beings. With each passing day, the urgency of these prayers grows. The decimation of the bison is a cautionary tale. Andy Blackwater (personal communication, January 16, 2006), another kááahsinnoon, says that today Siksikáítapiiksi and Náápiikoaksi live together on kitáóowahsinnoon; today our tipis, whether we are indigenous or newcomer, today our tipis are held down by the same peg. Neither is going anywhere. The knowledge and the will needed to protect and save these places no longer belongs to one people or one tradition. Therefore, Siksikáítapiiksi and Náápiikoaksi are called to love thy neighbour, to work together, to ensure kitáóowahsinnoon continues to nourish us all. These precious places in their precarious state call for all Albertans to re-imagine the future together.

Next Section: Love Thy Neighbor - References and Glossary

Last updated: March 31, 2009
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