The Town of Okotoks marked this year’s Indigenous Peoples Day with a special event.
They held a ceremony to introduce a new name for a local park: Piistoo Park.
Talks of renaming the park, formerly called ‘Dewdney Park,’ began in the summer of 2021, and revolved around the park’s namesake, former Indian Commissioner and Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Territories Edgar Dewdney.
The park’s name was a reference to the Town of Okotoks’ former name, though the connection to the historical figure carried with it a reminder of Dewdney’s involvement in the creation of residential schools and his use of rations as a means of control over First Nations peoples.
The new name, Piistoo Park, was suggested by Siksika Band Council member Scotty Many Guns-Onistaomahka.
It’s the Blackfoot name for the nighthawk, a prominent figure in the story of Napi and the Big Rock.
The ceremony, held at the park next to the Okotoks Art Gallery, saw attendance from several Piikani and Siksika Elders who shared stories, a group of drummers, and many Okotoks residents.
A teepee lent to the town from a local resident was also erected at the site.
It concluded with a friendship dance, with everyone in attendance invited to participate.
Blood (Kainai) Tribe Elder and Consultation Coordinator Mike Oka, who was also involved in the renaming process, spoke at the ceremony.
"None of our history is made up, none of our history is copied up out of books. We know where we came from, we know where we've been, and we know where we are today, and our language continues."
He spoke of the park’s renaming and the sharing of stories at the ceremony.
"We're trying to work our way through the difficult times, and with the help of towns and municipalities such as Okotoks and what they're doing today, I hope it spreads to other areas, other towns, that we can educate people. We had to learn the history of the Europeans and today it's time for people to understand who we are, and we can help you with that. All you have to do is ask."
For Mayor Tanya Thorn, it represented a small but tangible step toward Truth and Reconciliation.
"The Truth and Reconciliation report is a key element that's been out for a while. Today we're demonstrating that we're open to taking some action and we're taking steps to put the recommendations in that report into place. This is a small step forward. It was great to see members of our community out and I'm a huge believer in storytelling and hearing stories because that's how you gain perspective and understanding, and this is an opportunity for us to gain that understanding.”