Sacred Ceremonial Objects Returned to Blackfoot Nations

By Clint Buehler

LETHBRIDGE, AB – The Alberta government is returning sacred ceremonial objects to the province’s three Blackfoot Nations so these significant items can once again be actively used in traditional ceremonies.

A special event was held here July 30 to celebrate the occasion, attended by government officials and Blackfoot leaders, Elders and members, including Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, Alberta Aboriginal Relations Minister Gene Zwozdesky—all three honourary Blackfoot chiefs—Alberta Culture and Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett, Grand Chief Charles Weaselhead, Chief Reg Crowshoe and Chief Leroy Goodeagle.

“Alberta is taking a leading role in Canada by supporting the repatriation of sacred items,” said Premier Stelmach. “It is a privilege to be part of this historic, cooperative effort to reinvigorate the cultural values that are the foundation of Aboriginal communities in the province.”

Sacred bundles are said to contain items given to the Blackfoot by the spirit beings of their world. They are used in ceremonies to renew connections with the spirits and to ask for help from the Creator. By placing sacred bundles back in their communities of origin, repatriation is invigorating many cultural and spiritual dimensions of Blackfoot life.

Enacted in 2000, the First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Object Repatriation Act (FNSCORA) is the first enactment of its kind in Canada. FNSCORA is provincial repatriation legislation that applies to First Nations sacred objects in the Government of Alberta’s collections at the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton and the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. The purpose of the act is to place sacred ceremonial objects that are vital to the practice of traditional ceremonies back into active use.

The act came into force in 2004 with the proclamation of the first regulation, the Blackfoot First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Regulation. This regulation was developed in close consultation between ceremonialists from the three Alberta Blackfoot First Nations and staff from Alberta Culture and Community Spirit (CCS).

“We applaud the Government of Alberta for acknowledging and recognizing our Blackfoot cultural values ans spiritual beliefs by repatriation of sacred ceremonial objects,” said Charles Weaselhead, the Grand Chief of Treaty No. 7 and the Chief of the Kainawa (Blood) Nation. “Our communities will continue to benefit from the repatriation of these cultural objects which will go back into ceremonial use. This partnership between two levels of government shows a true commitment to preserving Alberta’s cultural history and identity.”

Chief Reg Crowshoe of the Piikani Nation said the return of these sacred objects “is important to our community and to performing sacred Blackfoot rituals. We now have more opportunities to carry out the ceremonies that have been part of the Blackfoot way of life for many generations.”

“With our sacred ceremonial bundles coming home this will help us reconnect the present with our rich past and I extends Siksika Nation’s gratitude to the Alberta government and all those involved in this historic undertaking,” said Chief Leroy Goodeagle of the Siksika Nation.

It was also announced at the event that Alberta Aboriginal Relations is providing $20,000 one-time conditional grants to each of the three Blackfoot Nations for enhancing the preservation of Blackfoot language and culture in schools on each of the Blackfoot reserves. Alberta Aboriginal Relations is also providing one-time funding toward the printing of a book chronicling events leading up to Alberta’s repatriation legislation.