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City boulevard highlights Indigenous art, culture and knowledge

​If there is one street in Sikoohkotoki (Lethbridge) that perhaps best reflects Niitsitapii (Blackfoot) culture and territory our city is located on, it is Great Bear Boulevard.

Along the approximately 600 m stretch of road, residents and visitors may notice a number of Indigenous art installations and references to Blackfoot culture:

  • Iiyikítapiiyit! (Be brave, fearless!) - Fire Hall No. 5 mural by Hali Heavy Shield
  • Aoahkannaistokawa- Fire truck wrapped in Niitsitapii art by Iitsikiitsapoyii (Rudy Black Plume -Standing On Top Alone)
  • Nine iiníí (buffalo) sculptures by Ponokaakii (Marjie Crop Eared Wolf)
  • Niitsitapi saisskii (plants) and landscape design by Ponokaakii (Marjie Crop Eared Wolf) and Kainai Elders

Alongside each of the nine buffalo sculptures is an interpretive sign that features information about a distinctive saisskii (plants) and each plant's ongoing cultural relevancy to Niitsitapi peoples.

Buffalo sculpture artist Ponokaakii (Marjie Crop Eared Wolf), says she enjoyed working on the project as it gave her an opportunity to work with a number of people.

"I am thankful for the experience and the quality of relationships I have developed with my Elders," says Crop Eared Wolf. "I am grateful to have my friend and fellow Kainai Niitsitapi Artist Bryce Singer collaborate with me on this project. I hope that the public will see this project as more than public art, and come to appreciate the Blackfoot language, culture and territory. Through working on this project I wanted to showcase the unique beauty and importance of Blackfoot language, culture, my community and our territory."

The "Aoahkannaistokawa" piece on the fire truck based at Station 5 by Rudy Black Plume brings the spirit of the painted horse to crews who operate the truck. As outlined in the artist statement, "Whether it was for battle, hunting, or counting coup, a painted horse was an embodiment of prayer, protection, and good fortune for the owner of the horse. This piece is to honour the bravery and courage of those who put their lives on the line to protect and ensure the safety of their communities, just like the warriors of the past."

With two pieces on Indigenous artwork proudly displayed on Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services infrastructure, Deputy Chief, Cody Gundlock says it's opened the door for crews to learn more about Blackfoot culture and the symbolism behind each of the art installations.

"The more we learn about the significance of the artwork done by Hali and Rudy, the prouder we are to be a part of such an amazing project," says Deputy Chief Gundlock. "The symbolism of the murals on Fire Station #5 and the Fire Engine, are based off the culture of the Blackfoot people going back thousands of years. Even the smallest comparison in meaning to what we do in the Fire Service, is truly humbling for all of us. Moving forward, we carry the symbols of the Tipi, and the Horse, with pride and honor as our members serve in protecting our community"

Together the artwork installations create an ecosystem of Blackfoot cultural representation with the goal of reflecting the diversity of our community in the public realm. This demonstrates how public space can be for a forum for expression, creativity and inclusion. These types of projects help to bring public spaces to life and contribute to the City's emerging focus on placemaking, as outlined in the Municipal Development Plan policy.

"Getting to create a space that welcomes community in and engages them in an interactive experience that reflects and acknowledges Blackfoot land and culture has been a real privilege," says Land Development Manager, Spencer Croil. "Guided by the Municipal Development Plan policy, we look forward to other opportunities in placemaking around the city."

The Indigenous Relations office is also working with Helen Schuler Nature Centre to develop lesson plans which are focused on school-aged children for the area to help activate the space as a placemaking project for the community.

"Part of Reconciliation is bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to come to a shared understanding," says Indigenous Relations Advisor, Charlene Bruised Head Mountain Horse. "The space we see here in Great Bear Boulevard is a fantastic opportunity for our community to come out, engage with Blackfoot art and culture and walk away knowing a little more about the land we're situation on."

The City's Public Art program is planning to host an artist chat with each of the Blackfoot artists who have contributed to the Great Bear Boulevard project.

Pronunciation guide:

Iiyikítapiiyit - say ee-ye-gi-da-bee-it - (Be brave, fearless!) - Fire Hall No. 5 mural

Aoahkannaistokawa say ohh-gah-naa-ss-doo-gaw – Wrapped fire truck piece

Iiiníí – say eee-neee - (buffalo)

Saisskii – say saa-ss-keee (plants)

Sikoohkotoki – say sik-oooh-ki-toke (Lethbridge)

Niitsitapii – say Nit-sit-tappi (Blackfoot)


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