Piikani Blackfoot dispute Stoney Nakoda push on name changes for Calgary, other locales
Another First Nation has stepped forward to lay claim to naming rights in Alberta.
The Stoney Nakoda have applied to the province to have a long list of southern Alberta geographic features and urban areas renamed to reflect the traditional language of their nation as the “original occupants.”
But Chief Stanley C. Grier of the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy says his people were here first.
“The cultural, historic and archeological record of the territory does not support this conjecture and, in fact, contradicts it,” said Grier in a letter addressed to Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Rod Kelland of the Alberta Geographical Names Program.
Earlier this week, the three First Nations of the Stoney Nakoda, who identify themselves as a Sioux people, said in an application to the province that Calgary should be given the name Wichispa Oyade, which translates roughly to elbow town.
But Grier said that conflicts with a much longer Blackfoot presence in the region.
“We use the term ‘time immemorial’ advisedly, given its definition as ‘a time so long past as to be indefinite in history or tradition,’” he said.
“For us, in this region, such a period is over 6,000 years ago for what we retain in narrative, in ceremony and song, remains in rock, upon stone, fashioned into projectiles and in layers of buffalo bones.”
In comparison, the Stoney first arrived in the region several thousands years later “where they will likely have found more circles of stone laid by our people along the forks of the Saskatchewan and Red Deer Rivers,” wrote Grier, whose First Nation is centred at Brocket, 200 kilometres south of Calgary.
He said major historic sites such as Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, the Writing-on-Stone pictographs, the Majorville medicine wheel and radiocarbon dating at Moose Mountain in Kananaskis Country prove the Blackfoot are the original occupants.
Grier said although it’s highly unlikely Calgary will be wholly renamed, an Indigenous title could be added and if so, it should be Mohkinstsis or Mohkinstsis-aka-piyosis, the longer title translating to Elbow (River) Many Houses, a reflection of the European settler “invasion” that founded the city.
“We would welcome consultation and participation as it relates to our traditional territory within Alberta,” he said.
While Nenshi said he doubts the city’s name will be changed, he added the discussion is a productive one that sheds a light on Alberta’s history.
The Stoney Nakoda request is seen as a way of proving the First Nations’ ties to the land in complex litigation with Ottawa over Aboriginal and treaty rights litigation that includes resources and land dating back.
The request by Stoney Nakoda, whose reserve sits west of Calgary at Morley, is the largest one ever received by the Alberta Geographical Names Project seeking changes, said the agency.
More than 30 years ago, the name of popular hiking and rock climbing peak Mount Laurie west of Calgary was given its traditional Stoney Nakoda name Lyamnathka, or Yamnuska.
No one from Stoney Nakoda would comment on Friday.