When Indigenous leaders approached Edmonton City Council in June with the idea of giving the city’s newly drawn wards names that honour Indigenous culture and history, Council said yes.
But there was a small problem with timing.
There were only a few weeks to create an advisory committee and only six weeks to meet and develop the 12 names before the new ward boundaries were to be presented to Council.
Early on it was decided the committee would be made up solely of women Indigenous leaders. That was a good move.
“It’s like your grandma or your nikawiy,” said Grand Chief Billy Morin of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations and Chief of Enoch Cree Nation. “Sometimes you’ve just gotta get out of their way and let them do their work, right? And they get it done.”
Here’s how it happened:
The group of 17 Indigenous women, who called themselves iyiniw iskwewak wihtwâwin (Indigenous Women’s Action/Movement), was made up of women from First Nations in Treaty 6, 7, and 8 territories, as well as Métis and Inuit peoples.
Over six weeks in August and September, the women gathered weekly either online or in a physically distanced fashion, to share stories, engage in ceremony, tour some of the wards and use the guidance of spirit, Knowledge Keepers, and Elders to recommend 12 deeply meaningful names.
Terri Suntjens was one of the two Circle Keepers (facilitators) for the group.
“This initiative was really a historic movement where Indigenous voices were at the forefront of leading this effort,” said Suntjens.
“The women in this committee were Indigenous Elders, Knowledge Keepers, scholars, educators and leaders who gifted us with their teachings to ensure we brought forward 12 Indigenous names that truly have spirit.”
Earlier this month, the names and the new ward boundaries were adopted by City Council.
Learn how to pronounce the ward names and get more information about the stories behind each of them.
Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post is iyiniw iskwewak wihtwâwin at the River Cree Resort in September 2020. The committee members pictured are (L-R): Christina Hardie, Rob Houle (Circle Keeper), Roxanne Tootoosis, Lynda Minoose, Noella Steinhauer, Lillian Crier, Terri Suntjens (Circle Keeper), Theresa Strawberry, Edna Elias, Beatrice Morin. Committee members not pictured are Daphne Alexis, Clarice Anderson, Carla Badger, Leona Makokis, Emily Riddle, Marilyn Lizee, Nicholle Weasel Traveller and Jodi Calahoo-Stonehouse.