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Stoney Nakoda question why discovery of bison skull wasn't shared with them

"Since the time of memorial, we have called the Rocky Mountains home in the eastern and western slope and from the time this town was built, we have held a relationship and played a part in tourism in Banff and Banff National Park."

BANFF ­– The Stoney Nakoda Nation wants to focus on rebuilding relationships with the municipality of Banff after a bison skull unearthed in the townsite last February was repatriated to the Blackfoot Nation.

"In the spirit of Treaty 7 and Canada's reconciliation, we have to rebuild that relationship between the Town of Banff and Stoney Nation – the same relationship your ancestors and my ancestors had when they first started building this town," Stoney Nakoda nation member Travis Rider said at the Jan. 27 council meeting.

The delegation to Banff council comes three months after the Siksika Nation announced it was the recipient of a 2,400-year-old bison skull found by Fortis Alberta last February during construction on Lynx Street in Banff.

There was a welcoming ceremony with honour songs, smudging and prayer at the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park in November when the skull was repatriated.

It was also the first time some Stoney Nakoda Nation residents said they even heard about the discovery.

"We seen in the media in November 2019 that the sacred item was handed over to Blackfoot Nation by Parks Canada so I wanted to say that the buffalo skull is still a sacred item to the [Stoneys] and we have protocols in place when a sacred item is found and the removal of the buffalo skull from the earth – we still follow the law of creator," Rider explained to Banff Mayor and council.

After the presentation, Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said Town officials were aware of the concerns from the neighbouring Nation and said she knew the Parks Canada superintendent was aware of the concerns as well.

"I can't speak on behalf of Parks Canada or on behalf of the superintendent, but I can say in that meetings the superintendent acknowledged the concerns of Stoney Nation and all I can recall is they were in conversations with the removal of the skull," Sorensen said.

"I trust that Parks Canada has been in touch with the appropriate people to acknowledge, or at least have a conversation around that situation."

Town of Banff communications and marketing director Jason Darrah said the topic of the bison skull repatriation is entirely in the jurisdiction of the Government of Canada through Parks Canada – the only role the Town has is making sure the construction crews and contractors follow the rules set out in the Canada National Parks Act and its underlying regulations.

"These [regulations] are also reinforced in the permitting stage for construction activity, which requires provisions under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the recently adopted Impact Assessment Act. These are all federal jurisdiction," Darrah wrote in an email.

In a previous emailed response from Parks Canada, officials said the federal organization recognizes modern-day Banff National Parks lies within the territories of the Treaty 6, the Treaty 7, and the Treaty 8 First Nations, as well as the Métis Homeland and recognizes the spiritual, cultural and historical significance of bison to Indigenous people. Parks Canada officials said it provided the most recent bison skull that was discovered to the Siksika First National in response to its request.

When pressed for an official policy document on how items of cultural significance are repatriated to First Nations, Parks Canada directed the Outlook to a previously emailed statement.

"When items of cultural significance are requested, it has been Parks Canada’s practice for a number of years to provide them to Indigenous groups in the order that the cultural items are obtained and as circumstances allow. For instance, in June 2011, another bison skull was provided to the Stoney Nakoda and repatriated to the Stoney Nakoda’s Morley Reserve. The most recent bison skull was the first one requested and provided to an Indigenous group since that time," the statement  read.

"In the spirit of reconciliation and in keeping with its commitment to renewed relationships with Indigenous peoples, Parks Canada’s aim is to address future protocols for the care, management and repatriation of cultural items from Banff National Park with all interested Indigenous groups."

It is still unclear how the Siksika were made aware of the skull's discovery to begin with.

A Stoney Nakoda land claim is still before the courts.

In 2003, the Stoney Nakoda Nation, consisting of three bands, Wesley, Chiniki and Bearspaw, launched a land claim seeking declaration of Aboriginal title and rights to a large area of land in southern Alberta including Banff National Park.

During the court process, Siksika First Nation and Piikani First Nation requested to join the litigation as defendants, an application that was recently struck down in December 2019 by Justice R. A. Neufeld. The decision to remove Siksika and Piikani Nations as defendants was also recently appealed by those two Nations on Jan. 3.

The Stoney Nakoda Nation also proposed a Nakoda Guardian Program to the Parks Canada Agency in December 2017 requesting to working with the federal government to cooperatively manage and steward their traditional lands.

The proposal referenced the 2010 Memorandum of Understanding signed between Stoney Nakoda Nation and Parks Canada Agency, outlining the new program as a way to allow guardians to monitor wildlife, patrol protected areas and help reduce the impacts of climate change while honouring their cultural traditions and train the next generation of leaders.

"As you may be aware, the Stoney Nakoda people have utilized the area covered by the presented Banff National Park for hundreds of years. Facing competition from the larger buffalo hunting tribes on the plains, the Stoney Nakoda lived, hunted and fished in the headwaters and eastern slopes and made the Rocky Mountains their sacred place," the proposal letter read.

"The Stoney Nakoda people are presently asserting their inherent rights and title to these lands in the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench. However, they cannot afford to await a decision from the courts that would recognize these rights."

During the Banff council meeting, Coun. Peter Poole said this could be a potential starting point for more discussions around policies.

"We heard we have an opportunity to have a protocol on how to handle this sort of item and I would like for us, in our steps, to go forward and invite buffalo elders in to advise us on how to handle that," Poole said.

Rider noted that Stoney people were in Banff prior to Europeans arriving and even helped the early settlers.

"We were the first ones to entertain those stranded travellers [during the 1894 train derailment] but if you go back to 1883 when this town was first established ... we found frozen people, settlers, and they were taken to the hot springs to warm up and thaw out, as to us it was sacred water healing waters," Rider said.

"Since the time of memorial, we have called the Rocky Mountains home in the eastern and western slope and from the time this town was built, we have held a relationship and played a part in tourism in Banff and Banff National Park."

Jenna Dulewich,
Follow me on Twitter @JennaDulewich

Jenna Dulewich

About the Author: Jenna Dulewich

Jenna Dulewich is a national and provincial award-winning multi-media journalist. Joining the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2019, she covers Stoney Nakoda, MD of Bighorn, Canmore and court.
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