A Journey through Art and Heritage

Written by Preston Miller

A Journey Through History

Indigenous Awareness Week at uLeth

The University of Lethbridge’s campus was alive with a vibrant mix of activity and reflection as it hosted Indigenous Awareness Week from March 11-15, 2024. This week aimed to deepen understanding, respect, and appreciation for Indigenous traditions through a variety of activities and lectures tailored to educate and motivate the university community.  Among the events, and as part of the Art NOW series, was a compelling presentation in the University Recital Hall by the artist Sikapinakii Low Horn. This session offered attendees a profound insight into Sikapinakii’s artistic journey, impactful exhibitions, and pioneering research on Blackfoot cowboys, weaving together the intricate threads of Blackfoot culture and history.

Sikapinakii Low Horn: A Beacon of Blackfoot Culture

Sikapinakii Low Horn is celebrated for her work as an illustrator, photographer, and mixed media artist who has captivated audiences with her exhibitions at Casa (Kah’kano’kitopi Saatstakssin) and SAAG (Imiitaiks’iistsik’ooni). Each exhibit offers a deep dive into her Blackfoot heritage. Her work, characterized by its exploration of storytelling, cultural preservation, and the dialogue between traditional practices and contemporary life, seeks to evoke a sense of pride, resilience, and continuity among the Blackfoot people. Moreover, it challenges viewers to reconsider their perceptions of Indigenous art and history. “Blackfoot people are a storytelling people. We can make a story out of anything,” Sikapinakii shared, underscoring the cultural importance of oral traditions and stories.

Throughout her presentation, which captivated over three dozen attendees, Sikapinakii discussed her journey, including her role as a traditional powwow dancer and her efforts to learn and preserve the Blackfoot language. Her candid reflections on experiences, such as her tenure as the First Nations Princess at the Calgary Stampede, where she navigated ideological clashes, added a deeply personal and poignant dimension to her narrative. Furthermore, Sikapinakii illuminated the connection between Blackfoot culture and Western cowboy identity, highlighting the shared values of resilience, independence, and a profound connection to the land. This exploration was enriched by her discussion on the critical role of dogs in Blackfoot society and the transformative power of storytelling in preserving cultural memory and identity.

Fostering Dialogue and Understanding

The lecture showcased Sikapinakii’s exceptional art and research. It served as an invitation to engage in broader dialogues about Indigenous identity, history, and the pathways toward cultural preservation and revitalization. It underscored the crucial role of Indigenous Awareness Week as a platform for learning, reflection, and dialogue, urging the university community to partake in the journey toward understanding and reconciliation.

The University of Lethbridge’s commitment to Indigenous Awareness Week underscores its dedication to creating an inclusive and respectful space that honours Indigenous peoples’ diverse cultures and histories. Events like Sikapinakii Low Horn’s lecture enrich the university’s academic and cultural landscape, bridging gaps, challenging stereotypes, and fostering a deeper appreciation for the rich Indigenous heritage integral to our collective Canadian identity.

Looking Forward: The Path to Inclusivity and Respect

As the week ended, participants were left with renewed curiosity, empathy, and a deeper understanding of the distance still to be covered in our journey toward true inclusivity and respect for Indigenous communities. While initiatives like Indigenous Awareness Week represent a step forward in building a more inclusive, informed, and respectful society, they also highlight areas where the University of Lethbridge could enhance its commitment to genuinely acknowledging and celebrating Indigenous peoples’ invaluable contributions. The insights shared by Sikapinakii Low Horn and the ensuing conversations bring to light the essential role of education, art, and storytelling in navigating the complexities of identity, culture, and reconciliation.

However, they also underscore the need for ongoing, tangible actions beyond annual events. The university is a beacon of hope in fostering understanding and respect across all communities. Yet, it must address the systemic barriers that hinder true inclusivity. Expanding curriculum offerings to include more Indigenous perspectives across disciplines, creating more spaces for Indigenous voices in decision-making roles, and intensifying efforts to recruit and retain Indigenous faculty and staff are critical steps toward paving the way for a more equitable and harmonious world. As the University of Lethbridge continues to lead these vital dialogues, reflecting on what has been achieved—and the long path ahead—is imperative.

A Call to Action for the uLeth Community

The Meliorist invites readers to ponder the lessons and themes of Indigenous Awareness Week and to consider our roles in the ongoing journey toward truth, understanding, and reconciliation. We should aim to embrace the spirit of this week throughout our daily lives and interactions, striving to honour the diversity of cultures that enrich our university and nation.  Engaging more deeply with Indigenous cultural events, seeking knowledge about Indigenous histories and experiences, and supporting Indigenous artists are vital steps we can take to foster a more inclusive and brighter future.

Land Acknowledgement 

The Meliorist is printed and distributed on Treaty Seven Territory. The Meliorist acknowledges and honours the traditional territories of the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta, which includes the Blackfoot Confederacy (compromising the Siksika, Piikani and Kainai First Nations), the Tsuut’ina First Nation and Stoney Nakoda First Nations. We honour the Blackfoot ways of knowing and caring for this land. The City of Lethbridge is also part of the Metis Nation of Alberta, Region III. We are committed to Indigenization and reconciliation alongside our ULeth partners.

Additional Resources

Indigenous Awareness Week: Learn more about the initiative and calendar of events: 

Indigenous Events: Learn more about the various events throughout the year. 

Elders in Residence: Weekly, Indigenous elders are available to provide knowledge, support, and spiritual mentorship to all University of Lethbridge students, staff, and faculty, regardless of cultural background.

Iikaisskini Indigenous Services: Iikaisskini Indigenous Services offers academic, cultural, financial, and well-being support to self-identified Indigenous students.

Indigenous Initiatives: Learn more about the programs, initiatives, and commitments established by the University of Lethbridge to support Blackfoot and all Indigenous peoples in our community. 

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