BOW VALLEY – The traditional name for the little peak visible from Canmore has been restored.
Stoney Nakoda elders are hopeful the traditional name – Anû Kathâ Îpa, translated in English as Bald Eagle Peak – sticks and erases the previous racist nickname that has plagued the Bow Valley for decades.
"This is a pretty significant day for Stoney people – this is our territory," Councillor Jordie Mark said during the Tuesday (Sept. 29) afternoon ceremony at the Travel Alberta Visitor Information Centre in Canmore.
"Everything has Indigenous names, even before this derogatory name, there was a name there before borders, before provinces, before Canada. This is where we migrated, hunted and fished – today is special."
Previously known for decades as the unofficial nickname, Squaw's Tit, several advocates and Nation members have been speaking out about the inappropriate and racist nature of a peak on Mount Charles Stewart.
Once known as a noun to describe an Indigenous woman, the word has long been recognized as offensive and a racial slur.
"I have four daughters. I didn't want them to grow up knowing this name," Councillor Colin Simeon said during the ceremony.
"It was important for us to do this the right way, starting with the ceremony ... and it was important to let the women come in and name the mountain."
Starting the afternoon with a pipe ceremony in a Nakoda teepee, there were opening and closing prayers, several speeches of thanks from officials, elders, and Chiniki chief and council, accompanied by three traditional songs from the Chiniki Lake Drummers including an honour song and a victory song.
Elders Philomena Stephens and Una Wesley got emotional as they sang along to the victory song.
"It is an honour and a privilege to rename this mountain," Wesley said as she stood in front of the microphone.
Chosen as the elder to declare the original traditional name, Wesley is the eldest of matriarchs in the band and a known shi(f)t changer for the last half a century.
Born and raised in Morley, Wesley attended the University of Calgary, Portage College and completed Nechi Training in Edmonton with certificates for training in counselling, addictions, education and business. The elder was also the first woman chief in the Treaty Seven area and also served as a councillor for the Bearspaw First Nation.
Asking all the women in attendance to join behind her during the ceremony, Welsey declared the peak Anû Kathâ Îpa.
"In the spirit of truth and reconciliation, it is a long time coming of changing this racial slur," tribal historian and emcee Buddy Welsey said.
Spearheaded by local lawyers and advocates, the Peak Project began in 2014 to find a formal name for the peak.
The initiative gained momentum in the past six months with Canmore and MD of Bighorn councils both throwing support behind finding an appropriate name.
“Personally, I feel the only way to resolve issues in this matter is to have a legally recognized name for that peak and point to that as a name that should be on all maps and correspondence,” Bighorn Reeve Dene Cooper told the Outlook last month.
“Right now, there is nothing to point to, nothing formally to point to and I think that is a very serious deficit.”
While the name has yet to be officially accepted by the Alberta Geographical Names Program, elders said this is a start.
Looking at the peak 1,279 metres high on Mount Charles Stewart, Chiniki Chief Aaron Young said it was fitting to host the ceremony in fall – a season which represents growth.
"We've lived generations through these mountains ... and we've gone through generations with shadows cast on us – this is a truly remarkable day to remember times are changing."