Stoney Nakoda call to rename Calgary prompts rebuttal from Piikani 'time immemorial' inhabitants

A suggestion by Stoney Nakoda First Nation leaders that Calgary be renamed Wichispa Oyade because they were the area's original inhabitants has another Indigenous group saying not so fast — they were actually here first.

Chief of Blackfoot Confederacy member nation disputes Stoney Nakoda claim its people are original occupants

The chief of the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy is taking exception to a proposal by the Stoney Nakoda to rename Calgary and nearby sites with Stoney words. (CBC)

A suggestion by Stoney Nakoda leaders that Calgary be renamed Wichispa Oyade because they were the area's original inhabitants has another Indigenous group saying they were actually here first.

The chief of the Piikani Nation sent an open letter to Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Ron Kelland, co-ordinator for the provincial geographical names program, to draw their attention to what he says is an erroneous claim made by the Stoney Nakoda Nation that its people were the first to call the Calgary area home.

"The cultural, historic, and archaeological record of the territory does not support this conjecture, and, in fact, contradicts it," wrote Stanley Grier, chief of the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy.

Grier argues that Calgary is clearly located within Blackfoot Confederacy territory, whose people — the Aapatohisipiikunniwa, Siksikawa, Kainaiwa and Amsskapipiikunniwa — have occupied the land "since time immemorial."

The Stoney Nakoda people, on the other hand, arrived in the area much later, after having diverged from the Great Sioux Nation sometime after about 1550, Grier says.

"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.

Stoney Nakoda propose several name changes

In its submission to Alberta's Geographical Names Program, the Stoney Nakoda leaders also propose renaming the Bow River Ijathibe Wapta — a place where people made bows out of Saskatoon saplings.

They are also suggesting Mini Thni Wapta as an alternative, which means cold river.

They would like Canmore to be called Chuwapchipchiyan Kude Bi — a Stoney name that refers to a hunter who fooled himself by shooting at what he thought was a wolf in the willows, but there was no animal, only willows.

Kelland, the head of the place-names program, said the Stoney Nakoda application will be evaluated in a process that will include public consultations, and that researchers will look at old maps and historical documents.

Grier says he wants the province to take into account his arguments and include the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy in any discussions about possible place-name changes.

"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 wrote.

With files from The Canadian Press