Lethbridge aims to preserve First Nations history and sacred sites as it grows
Blackfoot elders consulted on municipal development plan for southern Alberta city
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.
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.
"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."