The Blackfoot word for grandparent is Kaahsinnoonik, and when Lethbridge College’s Kainai Kaahsinnoonik Peter Weasel Moccasin (Miiniipooka/Berry Child) starts to tell a story, listeners are drawn in as quickly as if they were listening to the grandparents of their childhoods. Whatever tale or teaching Weasel Moccasin shares, his audience – usually a mix of students, alumni, employees and friends of the college – eagerly follows all of the ups and downs, listening for Weasel Moccasin’s familiar joyful laugh along the way.
The Blackfoot word for buffalo is iinii, and Weasel Moccasin has no shortage of stories to share about this animal that has been sacred to the Blackfoot people since time immemorial. He might start with the lessons he heard from his father on late nights in front of a warm fire, and then move on to memories of buffalo harvests he has been on. He can use words to paint a vivid picture about how Winter Count Buffalo Robes carry the stories of communities, and he can tell you a thing or two about buffalo stones. He offered a prayer “in my own way” before the historic signing of the Buffalo Treaty at Lethbridge College this spring, and as of this summer, he has a new story to tell, one about what he felt and saw as he prayed with other Blackfoot elders before the release of a herd of 24 wild iinii at the base of Chief Mountain (Ninaiistáko), returning to roam the beautiful lands where they once ruled.
“The answers are in the stories,” says Weasel Moccasin, who received an honorary degree from Lethbridge College in 2018. “The stories are the reminders. Which path are you going to choose? Which path are you going to take?”
Woven throughout all of Weasel Moccasin’s tales about the iinii is one more idea – how education can be viewed as “the new buffalo.”
“In today’s Blackfoot worldview, education is seen as the new buffalo, being that an education is the pursuit of lifelong knowledge, the ultimate goal,” says Kainai Knowledge Keeper and artist William Singer III (Api’soomaahka/Running Coyote), the artist who painted the story of Lethbridge College on its new Winter Count Robe. “As with the buffalo, education empowers the individual to succeed by providing for themselves and the community, which leads to the longevity of the people.”
This special issue of Wider Horizons is full of stories from Lethbridge College people sharing their experiences with the iinii – both the old (the animal) and the new (education).
“We have so much we can learn from these stories that connect to our people here at Lethbridge College and the learning that happens here each day,” says Lethbridge College President and CEO Dr. Brad Donaldson. “I’d also like to acknowledge and celebrate the work of our talented and dedicated Indigenous Services team. Their leadership has facilitated so much of this work – and they generously guide colleagues, students and friends of the college in the path toward reconciliation. Like the path of the buffalo, it might not be straight. But we are grateful to have them leading us on this journey.”
Special thanks go out to Wider Horizons colleague Tina Karst (Communication Arts – Broadcast Journalism 2005) for her work co-editing this special issue, to photographer Rob Olson for his many contributions to these stories, and to Weasel Moccasin, Singer, and Lethbridge College colleagues Lowell Yellowhorn, Marni Hope, Marcia Blackwater, Jessica Fox and Sandra Bartlett Atwood for their contributions.
If you have a story of the iinii you’d like to share, email WHMagazine@lethbridgecollege.ca.