A Way Forward for Indigenous Heritage

Photo by Pinpoint National Photography, courtesy of the National Trust for Canada.

By Lorna Crowshoe and Jim Mountain

Canada has a rich Indigenous heritage with many places of sacred and cultural significance. And yet, these places are rarely protected by provincial legislation or recognized by municipal bylaws and polices. As workers and volunteers in the heritage field, we must challenge ourselves to find ways to fill this gap in knowledge and protection.

With this in mind, National Trust had the pleasure of presenting the MOH-KINS-TSIS | Calgary Indigenous Heritage Roundtable at Fort Calgary this past October as part of the National Trust Conference 2015. Months of thought, preparation, and organizational work by the Roundtable organizing committee led to this day, which brought together 120 participants from across Canada, including Elders, knowledge keepers and practitioners in the fields of heritage, archaeology, architecture and planning. Their goal? To find a way forward for shared understanding, strong relationships and a new paradigm for the protection of Calgary’s Indigenous heritage places. The event was presented as an opportunity for participants to occupy “ethical space” – a space where two worlds come together to learn new information in a respectful manner and in the spirit of cooperation.

The Crowfoot Young Warriors open MOH-KINS-TSIS. Photo by Pinpoint National Photography, courtesy of the National Trust for Canada.

When the doors of the Officer’s Mess at Fort Calgary opened, in came Kainai Elders Wilton Good Striker and Andy Black Water. Within a half hour the room was packed. The Blackfoot language provided a rich introduction to the proceedings as Andy Black Water led with an opening prayer. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi brought eloquent greetings from the City. Wilton Good Striker and Herman Yellow Old Woman shared humour and wisdom in speaking on Indigenous Historical Perspectives on Blackfoot Territory and Moh-Kins-Tsis. The day unfolded to include an incredible sharing of what this place called Moh-Kins-Tsis present-day Calgary – has meant to the Blackfoot people over generations.

Throughout the day, it became evident that there are many opportunities to Indigenize planning with the support of traditional knowledge keepers. Issues like validation of traditional knowledge were raised and practices and protocols for engaging Elders were discussed.

Kainai Elders Andy Black Water and Wilton Good Striker share their perspective. Photo by Pinpoint National Photography, courtesy of the National Trust for Canada.

A case study of Calgary’s Paskapoo Slopes development, notable for its efforts to accommodate Blackfoot cultural heritage, showed how traditional and ceremonial processes help strengthen relationships between mother earth, the environment and people and cannot be taken for granted. Elders impressed upon us that we all have a stewardship responsibility for the land and environment, explaining that it is their duty and responsibility to continue to contribute to and support practices of sustainability as landscapes change and new developments emerge. They believe there is potential to negotiate activity because in the end, everyone wants the same objective of well-being – especially for future generations.

As each speaker presented, it was evident that the participants at this important gathering had much knowledge to impart not just to Calgarians, but to communities across Canada. We are excited to continue this ongoing discussion with a second Indigenous Heritage Roundtable next October at the National Trust Conference 2016 in Hamilton. Together we can find a way forward.

Lorna Crowshoe is the Aboriginal Issues Strategist for the City of Calgary and Board Member of the National Trust for Canada. She co-chaired the National Trust’s Indigenous Heritage Forum, MOH-KINS-TSIS.

Jim Mountain is the Director of Regeneration Projects for the National Trust for Canada. 

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