blackfoot-cp-3297211

The $25-million Blackfoot Crossing museum opened Wednesday. ((Bill Graveland/Canadian Press))

A new museum celebrating aboriginal culture that opened in Alberta on Wednesday has taken decades of commitment by the Siksika Nation.

The Blackfoot Crossing Interpretive Centre tells the story of theBlackfoot people's lives, culture and history on their own land.

Local leaders have been working to create the museum since 1977, the 100th anniversary of the signing of Treaty No. 7 on the site about 100 km east of Calgary where the new $25-million building now stands.

The Blackfoot Confederacy, which signed Treaty No.7 on this site,consisted of the Siksika, Piikani (Peigan), Kainaiwa (Blood), Tsuu T'ina (Sarcee), and the Stoney (Bearspaw, Chiniki, and Wesley/Goodstoney).

The facility includes a theatre with traditional dance performance and a tipi village where guests can camp overnight. The historical siteincludes a Mandan Earth Lodge and ancient burial grounds.

This 62,000 sq. ft. museum building, whichincorporates Blackfoot structures and tools as part of its design,isnow the largest First Nations owned and operated cultural attraction in Canada.

Among the First Nations design elements are travois and bows used in the structure, stained glass feathers above the entranceand arrowswoven into the woodwork on doors and floors.

About 500 people, including Siksika chief Adrian Stinson,national chief Phil Fontaine, former premier Ralph Klein, Lieutenant Governor Norman Kwong and federal minister JimPrentice attendedWednesday's opening.

One of the most difficult tasks for the fledgling museum has been to acquire artifacts. Curators have been filling out documents and making requests to museums around the world that display objects from Blackfoot culture.

Michelle Crowchief, curator at the Blackfoot Centre, says many ceremonial objects and works of art were sold or taken from the Siksika people.

"At that time they sold it [for] next to nothing, which was a measley five or ten bucks, and now that we're trying to get them back we're paying thousands of dollars," she told CBC News.

Residential school display

One of the displays is devoted to the story of residential schools, which Crowchief said weakened her people's hold on their culture.

The Blackfoot continue to battle museums around the world for the return of artifacts that were once central to their way of life.

There are still very important Blackfoot artifacts in othermuseums, including Calgary's Glenbow museum, Crowchief said.

Items that have been returned took years to acquire, but even those came with precautionary advice from other curators.

"We've taken care of these things for years and when somebody that doesn't know too much about our culture and our ways — they don't understand the frustration that we feel, you know.

"For somebody to tell me what to do, you know that's not right."

The museum hopes to attract about 77,000 people annually.