Conference explores preservation of Blackfoot history

A local group of researchers and First Nations cultural experts are meeting over the next two days (June 4-5) at the University of Lethbridge to learn from each other about how to more proactively preserve ancient Blackfoot sites in southern Alberta in the face of future land development.

According to volunteer conference organizer Jerry Potts, a member of the Apatohsipiikuni (Northern Piikani, or Canadian) community, for more than a century archaeologists have recorded, studied and analyzed the remains left by Niitsitapii – the First Nations people of the area.

"This research has enhanced understanding of the material culture of ancient Niitsitapii and has contributed to the preservation and protection of many sites, but most often, these contributions are from a Western, scientific perspective and focus on the material remains – tipi rings, settlement sites and other physical reminders," says Potts. "This conference, the first of its kind in Alberta, brings the keepers of traditional knowledge together with archaeologists to develop the foundation a comprehensive understanding of how Niitsitapii lived with their landscape."

More than 150 participants are expected to attend over the two-day period.

Potts says that land-use studies by the Siksika, Kainai, Apatohsipiikuni (northern Piikani) and Ammskaapipiikuni (southern Piikani, or Montana-based Blackfeet) communities are using the knowledge of the elders to revive and preserve traditional knowledge about these places, integrating the physical remains with the spiritual aspects of the places.

"For millennia, Niitsitapii lived on the plains of the area that is now known as southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan and Montana. Within this territory people not only found resources that provided sustenance for life, they also developed close spiritual relationships with aspects of the environment. These sites of historical, cultural and spiritual significance occur throughout the Blackfoot landscape," he says.

Some of the key points participants will discuss include:

- Ways to facilitate the integration of traditional knowledge with assessment and mitigation projects associated with resource and industrial development

- Processes to open discussions among archaeologists and Blackfoot representatives that will bring a Blackfoot perspective to their research

- How to bring a Blackfoot perspective to issues of public use and preservation of important locations on the Blackfoot landscape, leading to culturally-sensitive site management plans

- Ways to encourage students, both native and non-native, to participate and to gain an understanding of how archaeologists and Blackfoot may have different perspectives and how it is possible to work together.