Calgary

Lethbridge aims to preserve First Nations history and sacred sites as it grows

The City of Lethbridge is taking steps toward truth and reconciliation with local Indigenous groups through its municipal development plan.

Blackfoot elders consulted on municipal development plan for southern Alberta city

The City of Lethbridge is consulting with Blackfoot elders from the Blood Tribe, Siksika Nation and the Piikani Nation on its municipal development plan. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

The City of Lethbridge is seeking truth and reconciliation with local Indigenous groups through its municipal development plan.

Lethbridge urban planners are consulting with Blackfoot elders to make sure their history is respected and preserved as the city grows.

Mike Oka, a Blackfoot elder of the Blood Tribe, said this is the first time a municipality in Alberta has taken such a meaningful step toward including First Nations in land development.

"It's very important because we reflect the true history of the province," he said. 

Blackfoot elder Mike Oka says he hopes the partnership prevents the loss of sacred sites and allows elders to pass down the land's oral history. (Submitted by Mike Oka)

Oka said the partnership invites elders to give input into where major projects like highways and bridges are built, and allows them to protect sacred sites.

"We've had sacred sites destroyed by industry, development in agriculture — in all aspects — well sites impacting our traditional use site," he said. "So now, we have some control and we try our best to mitigate."

Perry Stein, an urban planner for Lethbridge, said working with Blackfoot elders is an opportunity to unite Western and Indigenous perspectives.

Perry Stein, an urban planner with the City of Lethbridge, says the main focus of the initiative is to learn Blackfoot history and respectfully include it in the municipality's urban designs. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

"What better way to get a fulsome recounting of history than to actually work directly with the knowledge keepers themselves," he said. 

Stein hopes the initiative helps elevate First Nations history in land development to the same place as archeology and GIS mapping.

The urban planner said the city has also commenced a reconciliation implementation plan, and completed a traditional knowledge study of the entire city to better understand Blackfoot land use historically and contemporarily. 

"Our greatest focus at the moment is history," said Stein. "Understanding the truth piece will inform us and lead us toward reconciliation."

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alberta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson