College president given Blackfoot name during ceremony

By Geoff Smith (@GeoffSmithLNN on Twitter)
October 18, 2018 - 4:22pm Updated: October 19, 2018 - 11:13am

LETHBRIDGE – It was a special day at Lethbridge College for several reasons Thursday, Oct. 18.

Indigenous Celebration Day included culture, entertainment, and food, but also two significant presentations. Elder Peter Weasel Moccasin, Kainai Kaahsinnoonik or Grandparent of the college, presented president and CEO Dr. Paula Burns with a traditional Blackfoot name, Piita’gaaksiimaaki.

The English translation is Eagle Whistle Woman.

“It’s actually hard to describe in words,” Burns said after the ceremony. “I’m very respectful of what it means, to be given a Blackfoot name and the responsibility that goes with that.”

Coordinator of Indigenous services Marcia Black Water said the name is connected to one of the most sacred parts of their culture. Peter Weasel Moccasin was once a weather dancer for a sacred Okan, or Holy Woman, after a journey in his life to retrieve a sacred family object and how it helped him as he battled alcoholism.

It signifies overcoming challenges in life, and he said it was appropriate because Burns helps so many people through education.

Black Water said it was important to her when she arrived as a student to see strong women in leadership positions.

“That just really spoke to me, just the way Paula spoke, and her passion that she has for the college, and really wanting to bring just that knowledge of all our students, all the backgrounds, and really celebrating who we are, our diversity,” Black Water said.

“On a personal note, she listens, she’s a very good listener. I can tell her a story that may span over 20 minutes or so, and she’ll capture what I have said. She’ll take something away from that.”

Last year, Weasel Moccasin gave Lethbridge its own Blackfoot name, Ohkotoki’aahkkoiyiiniimaan – Stone Pipe. At a separate ceremony Thursday, the college unveiled a display featuring the rock and stem that will be used to make a Stone Pipe, along with an art piece by William Singer III, moccasins made by Torry Eagle Speaker and Dylan Daniels, and a buffalo robe. The display is meant to represent the traditional Blackfoot territory on which Lethbridge College sits.

“In our way of life, we don’t believe that history just is a straight line,” Black Water said, drawing on a quote from Dr. Leroy Little Bear. “It’s a constant flux. So, it might go one way, and then divert another way. It might go in a circular motion, it might take some ups and downs and all-arounds, but we’re constantly moving.

“Our past is part of the future and part of the present. With this display, we wanted to tell the story of the Blackfoot people, to be able to see the present, that we’ve persevered from the past. And we’re still going. We’re still here. We’re moving forward. We’re not just a people of the past.”

A completed Stone Pipe will be presented when the school unveils its Indigenous strategy. Manager of recruitment and Indigenous services Shanda Webber said they’re committed to making Indigenous education a priority.

“Looking at curriculum, looking at the services we provide, and also consulting with our communities to make sure we’re providing the right education to our students, and this includes Indigenous as well as non-Indigenous students, because we all have a role to play about learning about our past, about reconciliation, and moving for the future for our generations to come,” Webber said.

Burns acknowledged the hard work of many people and the partnership with Blackfoot and other Indigenous communities.

“It’s a huge honour to be made part of that, which means that we have leadership opportunity in it.”

Enrollment at Lethbridge College for Fall 2018 includes 356 Indigenous students, or 7.7 per cent.

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