The Town of Okotoks will be receiving a Blackfoot painted lodge Saturday afternoon.
Members of council and a few other guests will be partaking in a ceremony where the tipi will be transferred by four Blackfoot Elders at Laudan Park.
Mayor Tanya Thorn says the relationship with the Elders began over a year ago with help from Indigenous relations advisor Desmond Jackson.
"I met Desmond at the September 30th event of 2021. He had set up his tipi for that event and we kind of got chatting. He connected us, at that time, with our Blackfoot Elders originally to talk about what reconciliation looks like for them and how do we build a relationship. One thing kind of led to another and they approached us about potentially doing an official traditional tipi transfer. From the town's perspective, we had no idea what any of that meant, so we kind of jumped in with both feet and said 'Sure, show us the way."
The Elders, of the Siksika, Kainai, Piikani, and Southern Pikuni Nations which make up the Blackfoot Confederacy, came up with the design, with Jackson being instrumental in getting the tipi painted.
Okotoks residents also participated in some of the painting process with locals being given the opportunity to leave a handprint on the inner lining of the tipi back in March. Those who participated had to sign up for a select time slot from March 16-18.
Jackson explains how that process came about and why it was limited to only a few Okotokians.
"You have to have a special transfer rite on our Blackfoot culture to paint a tipi. Mayor Thorn and CAO Vincent wanted the community to be involved in the painting of the tipi, but going through those oral checks and balances with the Elders, what would that look like and how would the community be involved? It would be a safe assumption that the general public wouldn't have those transferred rites. We landed on handprints, and the Elders advised that seeing as I'm a lodge holder, I would use my transfer to give to the community members that were participating, who had a very limited time to make their mark. They came in, everyone was smudged, I shared my transfer with everyone that participated, and they made their mark."
Blackfoot oral tradition, and the processes that come with it, were something Mayor Thorn was admittedly not at all used to.
"We have had a lot of meetings; we've learned a lot about each side of that. The Blackfoot, a very oral culture. Our colonial culture, very written word related, with contracts and details. We had to navigate a lot of that, of 'what does this look like?' There's not a checklist, which, even for myself, I'm thinking 'Where's the checklist? What are the things I'm going to have to do? What are the rules?'"
Embracing that process and finding comfort in it is, in itself, a key aspect of Truth and Reconciliation, says Jackson.
"That's a really big step towards reconciliation, this idea of being vulnerable, being open and not having this big checklist, right? There's checks and balances within our oral protocol and oral process, those will be on display at the transfer ceremony... Not just anyone gets a tipi and not all First Nations people, even in the Blackfoot community, will ever get a painted lodge. When we say 'significant,' it's significant."
Until the day of the ceremony, the tipi had not been seen by any town employees or residents.
Along with the Elders, only a few members of town council and other guests will be participating in the transfer ceremony inside the tipi, though members of the community are invited to watch from outside. A barbeque will be held after the ceremony and members of the public will be able to enter, with those who left a print on the tipi invited to see if they can find their print.
The ceremony is to be held at Laudan Park from 11:30-12:30, with the barbeque to follow until 2:00 p.m.
Public parking won’t be available, so attendees are encouraged to use alternate does of transport, and a free shuttle service from the recreation centre is being provided.