Teaching the Niitsitapi way of life as part of National Indigenous Peoples Day
Lethbridge College is honoured to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day every year on June 21. This is a day for all Canadians to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. Lethbridge College is located on the traditional territory of the Blackfoot Confederacy, land which is and has been home to many Indigenous peoples, including members of the Kainai, Siksika and Piikani First Nations, as well as many Métis and Inuit people.
While the college usually celebrates this day with the raising of the college tipi and in-person lessons from elders and knowledge-keepers, the current restrictions on gatherings provided a challenge. However, that challenge – when coupled with the creativity of two Lethbridge College colleagues – has resulted in the creation of a lasting lesson that can be shared by all students, alumni, employees and friends of the college.
An online tour of the college’s natural areas from a Blackfoot perspective came about thanks to the effort of Indigenous Services manager Shanda Webber and Indigenous Student Initiatives and Community Relations coordinator Marcia Black Water. They invited William Singer III (Api'soomaahka - Running Coyote) to campus earlier this month to teach about the traditional plants and vegetation found in the college’s backyard – the coulees.
Singer is well known to the Blood Tribe community for being a knowledge keeper and expert of traditional plants and their uses. He looks to the outdoors as the ideal classroom for learning Niitsitapiipaitapiiwahsini – the Niitsitapi Way of Life. In this video, he shares some traditional stories, as well as identifies local plants and grasses in the coulees, sharing their Blackfoot name and traditional uses.
The coulees are filled with natural flora that can sustain people, and Singer introduces viewers to wild turnips and wild onion to eat, licorice root to quench thirst, and so many plants and herbs to heal. In the Blackfoot worldview, Singer explains, “warriors still exist. It’s a warrior’s duty to protect the land, and to know the land and all of its stories. Now we have to protect the land, because the land protects the people.”
Webber adds that since the college can’t come together for National Indigenous Peoples Day, “we encourage people to embark on their own personal journey and understanding of what it means to be living on traditional Blackfoot territory. The land sustains us all. It sustains the college. And we want to start talking about how we – as individuals and as the college – are connected to the land. We then can talk about what steps we can take to start developing our own story about what it means to be a resident of traditional Blackfoot territory, and how we are connected, and how we all can become allies and work toward reconciliation.”
In celebration of National Indigenous Persons Day, staff members are encouraged to watch the video now and then explore the coulees behind campus with so much in bloom. In the fall, colleagues from Indigenous Services, A/V and Communications will be sharing shorter snippets of video and text that focuses on individual plants, their Blackfoot names and uses, and traditional Blackfoot stories. Watch for a story in the fall Wider Horizons about Singer’s coulee tour as well.
Singer was named after his great uncle Running Coyote, who was a Blackfoot warrior, and he carries on his legacy by living in two worlds and maintaining the Blackfoot worldview by understanding the past to survive in the present. He has worked as a professional artist/illustrator for more than 35 years, and his work is deeply rooted in the Blackfoot culture and worldview and uses painting to teach.
Along with his art, Singer divides his time as an entrepreneur and an environmental and political activist, utilizing Blackfoot traditional knowledge and protocol. Other areas of interest include Blackfoot history, watershed health, researching, communications and management/marketing consultation. He has been involved in many spiritual, cultural events and activities and has always been an advocate for First Nations rights and knowledge.
In addition to sharing his knowledge about the beautiful plant and flowers in the coulees in this video, he also passed along a recipe for colleagues to try this weekend.
Keep an eye on Connections and the college website this fall for more lessons from Singer, and thanks to Marcia Black Water and Shanda Webber for creating a lasting lesson for all Lethbridge College students, alumni, staff and friends.
Easy Bannock/Cornbread recipe
- Preheat oven to 425F.
- In a bowl, sift together:
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 cup flour
- 5 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ cup sugar (or less)
- After sifting, add:
- 1/3 cup canola/vegetable oil
- 1 cup + 2 tbsp water
- Mix together and pour into a greased medium cast-iron pan or muffin tin.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.