Medicine Hill, not Aiss ka pooma, selected as new community name

Most Calgarians know the large, forested hill next to Canada Olympic Park by the name Paskapoo Slopes, but soon most of it will be known by an anglicized Blackfoot name.

New development on Paskapoo slopes will, however, retain Blackfoot names for streets

Coun. Ward Sutherland believes the Blackfoot name of Aiss ka pooma will be too hard for Calgarians to pronounce and is suggesting the community to be named Medicine Hill, the English translation. (Trinity Hills Development)

Most Calgarians know the large, forested hill next to Canada Olympic Park by the name Paskapoo Slopes, a mispronunciation that the Calgary Planning Commission hoped to correct, but which was voted down by council on Monday

The original Blackfoot name for the area is actually Aiss ka pooma, a name the commission recommended be adopted for the new community being built on the land that was once sacred ceremonial ground.

"The message that we were given was that it had been misnamed originally, so we felt it would be more appropriate to fix a mistake than rename the community entirely," said commission member Jyoti Gondek.

Instead, the English translation of the name, Medicine Hill, was adopted for the community during a tense council vote. 

Coun. Ward Sutherland, who voted for the name Medicine Hill, believed the Blackfoot name would be too hard for Calgarians to pronounce, let alone search for in Google Maps.

"We need to balance some practicality in it and, of course, respect the Blackfoot," he said earlier in the day.

Sutherland said Blackfoot elders told developers and city officials that Medicine Hill would be an appropriate name for the new community.

The planning commission has a different take on the consultation with Blackfoot elders, however.

"They asked that Blackfoot oral history be considered throughout this process because the Blackfoot language is not written," reads a commission report recommending Aiss ka pooma as the name.

That was a source of confusion at council, with some including Coun. Druh Farrell asking for a decision to be delayed so that administration could clarify the wishes of the elders. 

The vote on delaying the decision and seeking clarification was also voted down. 

So, how do you pronounce it?

Sutherland, citing his Scottish-Cree heritage but admittedly poor Blackfoot accent, said earlier on Monday the name is pronounced "ess-ka-pooma."

He also highlighted what he described as mispronunciation by Gondek, herself, who pronounced it "ice-ka-pooma" in an interview with CBC.

Coun. Ward Sutherland on why the city should avoid a Blackfoot name and use an English translation instead for the new community to be built on the area known as Paskapoo Slopes. 6:20

"She didn't even pronounce it correctly, anyway," Sutherland said. "So, I mean, this is the challenge. You have a person that's fighting for it who doesn't even pronounce it properly."

It's a common mistake, the councillor added.

Sutherland said he surveyed more than 20 people who, when presented with the name, pronounced the first syllable as "ice."

"So they would assume that it would be 'i' so, if you're Googling, trying to find that community, you're going to look up 'i' and you're never going to be able to find it," he said.

Arguing for the Blackfoot version of the name in council, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said there are many names Calgarians mispronounce without causing any issues, including seemingly innocuous ones like Richard Road (ree-chard, not rich-ard).

Sutherland agreed with the commission's recommendation to name four streets in the community using Blackfoot names, including Natooyii (meaning sacred), Saatoohtsi (meaning west), Na'a (meaning Mother Earth), and Piita (meaning eagle).

Those names were approved by council. 

— with files from The Calgary Eyeopener and Drew Anderson