Hello, I’m from the Piikani First Nation which help make up the Niitsitapi (or the Blackfoot Confederacy). My Niitsitapi name is Iyimakoyiomaahkaa which describes a running wolf that has high endurance. At birth my mother named me Spirit River which was inspired by a dream she had about a river spirit: beings that are talked about in Blackfoot legends.
I helped name the Otahpiaaki project in late 2016 when I was working on another project with Elder in the Making where I, along with three other students, created educational materials and lesson plans that educators could utilize in their classrooms. Both projects have helped me learn and grow as a person. Working with Elder in the Making helped me learn more about my own culture (the Blackfoot) and the residential school impact where Otahpiaaki has allowed me to go even deeper into the impact of residential schools.
The trauma of the past has rippled into recent times which many call the “The Legacy” of colonization, but I like to call it the Legacy of Theft, and I have my lived experience as proof of that sentiment. Much like the Blackfoot in olden times, my family had a real knack for traveling around within Blackfoot Territory, depending on what the need was at the time. When my parents were just starting out, they had the typical struggles that Indigenous people face: lack of access to resources.
We started out in a small valley on the reserve with a community of Piikani neighbors. This valley could be found near the Oldman River in southern Alberta that the locals called, and continue to call, “Highbush”. A branch of my family tree, the “Knowltons”, have called this area home for generations and this was my first home after the hospital when I was born in 1993.
Back up a year before my birth, the Ralph Klein Alberta Government answered the calls of struggling white farmers in Southern Alberta where droughts were being experienced. His government began transitioning the, once titled “Oldman River”, to the now “Oldman Dam”. This angered the communities and societies on the Piikani reserve where it was argued that the river was deeply part of the Blackfoot.
Once protesting seemed futile with the Federal government's support of the dam, Milton, along with my family and other community members, planned to foil the government’s plan to create the dam. Once he and a few tribe members attempted to execute their plans, they were stopped by the RCMP and Milton was arrested. My family was then driven out of the area and at my family’s dismay, our homes were underwater.
Folks who aren’t familiar with Indigenous activity in history will learn, with only a bit of research, that the Indigenous people of North America are, and have always been, resistors of colonization. It’s easy to feel bad for the long lost “dead Indians” and their long lost tipi and ceremonies who had history act upon them, but I have been surrounded by the history of Indigenous activists and leaders who prove the narrative that Indigenous people and culture are alive, that we've acted in history opposed from having history act upon us, and with Otahpiaaki and Reconciliation, Indigenous people will continue to act and thrive in history.