two people stand at a podium inside a tipi
Dr. Samantha Lenci, interim President and CEO of Lethbridge College (L) and Lowell Yellowhorn, Indigenous Services manager (R) announce the Aiitsi’poyoip Blackfoot Speaking Award.

Recognizing that language is a key piece of Indigenous culture, Lethbridge College has announced the launch of the Aiitsi’poyoip Blackfoot Speaking Award.

Each year, the $1,000 award will be given to five Indigenous students of Blackfoot descent who have participated in the preservation of Blackfoot language and culture. Recipients will be able to demonstrate a proficient ability to speak Blackfoot and/or show a commitment to learn the language.

“It’s important for us, as an institution, to self-fund this new award,” says Dr. Samantha Lenci, interim President and CEO of Lethbridge College. “We are privileged to live and work on the traditional lands of the Blackfoot Confederacy, and we remain committed to demonstrating leadership in truth and reconciliation.”

The award was announced today as part of Lethbridge College’s National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations. It’s an outcome of the college’s participation in the McConnell Foundation’s Social Innovation Lab on Reconciliation in the Postsecondary Sector.

Lethbridge College and Algoma University in Ontario were the only two post-secondary institutions to take part in the pilot project, which launched in the fall of 2021. Each regional team was asked to tackle a specific opportunity facing them in their efforts for reconciliation.

a group of people standing inside a tipi smiling at camera
Members of Lethbridge College's Social Innovation Lab on Reconciliation in the Postsecondary Sector.

For the Lethbridge team, lab sessions incorporated both Blackfoot world views and western world views as members worked to identify ways to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing into curriculum and the method and practice of teaching adult learners. Out of that approach came a focus on preserving Indigenous language – specifically the Blackfoot language.

“Language loss is of critical concern for our local Blackfoot community,” says Lowell Yellowhorn, Indigenous Services manager. “Language goes hand in hand with culture, so when you preserve language, you also preserve culture.”

Students who intend to apply for the Aiitsi’poyoip Blackfoot Speaking Award will be encouraged to spend time learning more about their culture and language by working with a mentor – one of the college’s Blackfoot Grandparents (Kaahsinooniiks) or an Elder in their community. Recipients will be selected based on video submissions, which will showcase the students and their Blackfoot speaking abilities.

In addition to the newly created award, another outcome of the social innovation lab was the infusion of the Blackfoot language throughout Lethbridge College’s Spring 2022 Convocation. For the first time in the institution’s history, the ceremony featured co-emcees – Lenci and Yellowhorn – with Yellowhorn speaking Blackfoot for those in attendance and watching online.

“Even though we have concluded our requirements for the social innovation lab, our work at Lethbridge College is not done,” says Lenci. “Reconciliation is not checking a box. We’re committed to moving forward and building on the progress we’ve made.”

For more information on Lethbridge College’s Indigenous events, scholarships and Niitsitapi Strategy, visit the Indigenous Services website.