A Second Visit from the Stoney Nakoda Elders
By Guest Blogger: Louise Brittain Boisvert Photo details: Virgle Stephens talking to the group
Last night, I had the chance to partake in a presentation by members of the Stoney Elder Traditional Knowledge group at the HI-Lake Louise Alpine Centre. After having missed the first session earlier this month, I was excited to be able to participate this time around.
Although dark clouds on the horizon drove the event into the common lounge of HI-Lake Louise Alpine Centre, the beautiful cabin-style room was a perfect, cosy setting for a meeting with members the Stoney Elder Knowledge group. With a lively fire crackling in the fireplace, the Elders: Sykes Powderface, Virgile Stephens and Jeff Hunter, were introduced. Banff National Park, where our hostel is located, is part of the Stoney Nakoda First Nations traditional territory. These men, who have acted as advisors for Parks Canada for over 12 years, were here to discuss and share their connection to the land. The Stoney Nakoda are a nomadic people, who see themselves as nature’s people because they understand and communicate with the surrounding environment.
Jeff Hunter talking to the group
The talk began with the protocol of the smudge, led by Virgile Stephens, in which participants were invited to cleanse themselves in the smoke from the mixture of different herbs and plant products. The smoke was sweet-smelling and I was soothed as I splashed the smoke to my face, washing my hands and arms as I might in the shower. After a gift of tobacco was accepted, the elders opened the floor to any questions from the audience, a group of twenty composed mainly of overseas visitors, as well as a few hostel employees and locals.
Most questions were fielded by Sykes Powderface, a kind-faced man wearing cowboy boots and sporting a cellphone, whose sense of humour and modernity couldn’t distract from the profound air of understanding and knowledge. It is presently an era of rediscovery for his people, a time to reconnect with traditions that have been supressed by the New World. A lot of history has been lost but current research is allowing for rediscovery. For instance, he explained that it has recently been determined that smoke signals were used to efficiently communicate across their territory. However, the ability to create and read these smoke signals has long been lost.
Sykes Powderface talking to the group
Comparing the surrounding mountains to cathedrals, the Elders stressed the spiritual connection they share with the land. Mother Earth is life-giver and sustainer and, like all mothers, should be treated with love and respect. Our discussions ranged from language and culture to how traditional knowledge is helping Parks Canada in areas such as animal management. Stories of bear encounters and even accounts of life in residential schools were candidly related. It is their understanding that the main part of being a person is being honest – honest to oneself and to others – and this is exactly the attitude in which the discussions took place. All questions were answered in a sincere fashion, no matter the content.
The evening ended with a call to keep the park as natural as possible in order for people from all over the world to enjoy for many years to come. Finally, an invitation to join in on the festivities of the Stoney Nakoda Family Camp happening this weekend in Banff was extended to all.
Looking up at the trees and mountains on my walk home, I was filled with a deep sense of privilege. The respect and interconnectedness described by the Elders gave me a different appreciation for my surroundings. I feel the land’s intrinsic value is beyond our understanding but hearing of the connection felt by the Stoney Nakoda gave me a glimpse of what it would truly be like to be connected to the land, something I believe should be experienced by all. For this reason, I strongly encourage everyone to come out for the next sessions on August 22nd and September 19th to experience this insightful evening for yourself.