File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Steam rises from buildings in Calgary. If a group of First Nations get their wish, Calgary will be renamed ‘Wichispa Oyade,’ Stoney Nakoda terms that roughly translate to mean ‘elbow town.’

Piikani Chief challenges Stoney bid to change southern Alberta place names

CALGARY — A bid by a group of First Nations to have well-known places across southern Alberta, including Calgary, renamed in their language is being challenged by the chief of another Indigenous community.

The Stoney Nakoda have applied to the Alberta government to change the names of Calgary and dozens other sites that they consider to be part of their territory.

They wrote in a letter that they are the original occupants of the land and that a lack of recognition increases the threat to the Stoney Nakoda’s heritage.

But Chief Stanley Grier of the Piikani Nation says the cultural, historic and archaeological record contradicts the Stoney Nakoda’s claim to be the area’s original occupants.

The Piikani Nation 200 kilometres south of Calgary is part of the Blackfoot Confederacy, which also includes the Siksika Nation and the Kainai First Nation.

Grier says in a letter to Calgary’s mayor and to the co-ordinator of the Alberta Geographical Names Program that the Blackfoot people have lived in the area since time immemorial.

“For us, in this region, such a period is over 6,000 years ago, for what we retain in narrative, in ceremony, and song, remains in rock, upon stone, fashioned into projectiles and layers of buffalo bones,” Grier wrote to Naheed Nenshi and Ron Kelland.

The Stoney Nations, descendents of the Sioux, include three bands with the largest reserve west of Calgary. In their letter, they said they wanted Calgary to be renamed Wichispa Oyade, which roughly translates to elbow town.

Two rivers flow through Calgary, the Bow and the smaller Elbow.

Grier said his Blackfoot ancestors thousands of years ago called the place Mohkinstsiss — a reference to how “a great bend, the Elbow, came to be in The River Where the Bow Reeds Grow.”

“While contemporary economic realities and logistics would seem to make the prospects of renaming Calgary remote, adding the name most used by the First Nations now connected to the area would be a viable and positive step.”

He said there is little contention that Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump has been embraced by the Blackfoot for over 5,000 years and sacred imagery at Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park pre-dates that.

“The record reflects that the Stoney entered the region westward along the Saskatchewan River, where they will likely have found more circles of stone laid by our people near the forks of the Saskatchewan and Red Deer Rivers, one dated at 1,900 years old,” Grier wrote.

“The economics of trade and relations with the Northwest Co. and (the Hudson’s Bay Company) were primary motivating factors in Stoney movements.”

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