On Feb. 19, 2016, students from John G. Diefenbaker High School’s environmental club, The Green Chiefs, embarked on a journey to attend a Garden Naming Ceremony. At the Mahmawi-Atoskwin Center, the Green Chiefs were blessed with the name iitaa'saamskaop (a place to gather medicine) for their garden naturalization expansion project, which aims to acknowledge the Blackfoot people and also honours our shared connection to the land. In collaboration with Elder Randy Bottle of the Blackfoot nation and CBE Diversity and Learning Support Advisor Kimberly Younger, the Green Chiefs have learned a variety of Blackfoot teachings on local plants, as well as gained an understanding of their culture and philosophy.
Some people tend to take the earth and the land for granted, but in our opinion, it is important to acknowledge those privileges and to give back – as there may never be another chance to experience such opportunities. That is where the idea of the garden project came from; the goal of this collaboration is to acknowledge the original people of the land by incorporating Blackfoot cultural teachings and aspects within the garden design. The Green Chiefs were blessed with the name iitaa’saamskaop to honour our shared work together.
“IITAA'SAAMSKAOP is a very sacred name. Life was given to the project through a naming ceremony. IITAA'SAAMSKAOP is a place of gathering medicine that was given to us by the creator as a gift.” – Elder Randy Bottle.
During the ceremony, Elder Randy Bottle blessed the project, iitaa'saamskaop, in his native language. The rest of the ceremony was spent telling stories. Elder Randy Bottle had four major stories that he wanted to share. Some of the major themes within the stories were: having courage to make important changes and to do what is right, respecting the earth, leaving something special behind for future generations, as well as going on an important journey to retrieve something. Those very stories also describe the qualities of the name iitaa'saamskaop; not only does the name mean “a place to gather medicine”, but it also means going on a journey to create something special with courage and gratitude.
“Our work with Elder Randy will help introduce traditional plants, ones with medicinal uses. It will be a great addition to our garden and we’re honoured to be given a First Nations name for this project.” - Kevin G, Dawn A, and Dragon L, members of the environmental club.
Members of the Green Chiefs were ecstatic to be involved with such a unique project. Co-leader of the club, Samuel Young, said: “working with Elder Randy is an amazing opportunity not only to receive a professional perspective but also to be able to have Aboriginal input in our garden.”
Other members of the club recognized the importance of the project: “The project is important as it allows us to recreate the connection with nature that the First Nations have. It makes the Green Chiefs more true to its name,” said Kevin G, Dawn A, and Dragon L. “It was such an amazing opportunity to attend a traditional Blackfoot ceremony and gain an insight into their culture. The overall goal of this project was to not only acknowledge the Blackfoot culture, but to put emphasis on it and integrate some cultural aspects into the garden design for our school,” said Shirley H, and Vivian S. The Diefenbaker Green Chiefs are most definitely excited to develop and enhance the garden space under the name ittaa’saamskaop, hopefully revealing their garden design by the end of summer for all to enjoy!
Story by: Shirley H. and Vivian S., Grade 11 students at John G. Diefenbaker High School