Lethbridge College President and CEO Dr. Paula Burns received a Blackfoot name at a ceremony held in conjunction with the college’s Indigenous Celebration Day Thursday. Burns’ name is Piita’gaaksiimaaki which means Eagle Whistle Woman. It was bestowed by the college’s Kainai Kaahsinnoonik (Grandparent) Peter Weasel Moccasin.
Weasel Moccasin said the name represents the overcoming of challenges in life and how a person can rise to face adversity. He told a story of how a journey in his life to retrieve a sacred family object helped him in his battle with alcoholism, and led to a role as a weather dancer for a sacred Okan (Holy Woman). Dr. Burns’ name is tied to the leadership and sacrifice of that Holy Woman.
“I felt that it was a very appropriate name for her because she helps numerous people globally and locally,” said Weasel Moccasin. “She helps them get educated in a good way, so that when they leave this college, they’ll be able to find the things they want to do in life. She has that responsibility.”
The college’s eighth president and CEO, Dr. Burns came to Lethbridge in February 2013. She has worked closely with local Indigenous communities both inside and outside of the college to advance awareness, education and inclusion of Indigenous culture.
“I am blessed and I am humbled,” said Dr. Burns. “I am very respectful of what it means to be given a Blackfoot name, and the responsibility that goes with it. It’s a huge honour to be made a part of this community and it means that we have leadership opportunities.”
During her tenure, Lethbridge College has collaborated with many internal and external stakeholders to develop a three-year Niitsitapi Indigenization Plan for 2016-19; to permanently raise the on campus in 2017; and to create an Indigenous President’s Council. Dr. Burns maintains an ongoing dialogue with local Indigenous leaders on that council.
Dr. Burns has also served as a member of Indigenous Education Committee that launched the for Colleges and Institutes in 2015, of which Lethbridge College is a signatory member. Lethbridge College’s efforts towards serving Indigenous students both in and out of the classroom earned it a bronze in 2017 from CICan.
“I am so proud and honoured to work for a post-secondary institution that is so invested in making Indigenous education a priority,” said Shanda Webber, manager of Recruitment and Indigenous Services. “Our goal is to provide a sense of belonging, a ‘home away from home’ for all Indigenous students, First Nations, Métis and Inuit learners, and assist them in their journey of attaining a post-secondary education.”
Earlier in the day, the college unveiled the permanent Ohkotoki’aahkkoiyiiniimaan display in Centre Core. Named after , which means Stone Pipe, the display strongly identifies the college’s location on traditional Blackfoot Territory, while welcoming visitors to campus.
Display pieces include moccasins made by alumna Torry Eagle Speaker and student Dylan Daniels; an authentic buffalo robe; the raw materials needed to create a traditional stone pipe; and a custom art piece created by Blackfoot artist . The artifacts were chosen to help weave the story of the Blackfoot people and their ties to the land.
“Lethbridge College has been working and learning together to give honour to Blackfoot Territory, our students and community of the Blackfoot Confederacy nations, to give a sense of pride in culture and home,” said Marcia Black Water, coordinator, Indigenous Services. “Our hope is to have people come into our college and be able to learn about what it means to stand on Blackfoot lands.”
Indigenous Celebration Day featured traditional music, dancing, food and cultural displays. This fall, 356 Indigenous students are taking diploma, degree or certificate programs at Lethbridge College, representing 7.7 per cent of the college’s students. Lethbridge College has a “Circle of Services” to support its Indigenous learners. More information can be found at .