EALT is concerned with conserving natural landscapes, native species and biodiversity. We recognize that long before the settlers came to cultivate and ranch Alberta, the land provided food and all manner of sustenance to the original peoples as well as the settlers. Wild, non-cultivated plants, shrubs and trees sustained generations of peoples throughout North America and the world. This understanding is why EALT began to hold annual celebratory dinners called Nature’s Nourishment, recognizing that the natural landscape has always provided the sustenance that we need. At these farm-to-fork dinners we featured plants that could be gathered in the Edmonton area, as well as more traditionally grown produce.
Wild foods were not only an important source of food, drink, and medicine for many groups of people worldwide, but this continues today. Our food comes from nature; our food relies on nature!
To expand awareness of natural edibles, we developed a Nature’s Nourishment Recipe Book which featured wild native plants which can be found and gathered in the local area – from fireweed blossom to stinging nettle! This beautifully illustrated book has 20 recipes. An important part of each recipe is a description of how Indigenous Peoples used the plants, whether for food, drink, salves or medicines.
As part of EALT’s Protecting Pollinators program, EALT began to build various sizes of Bee Hotels, and to hold workshops and education sessions about the 300+ species of native solitary bees in Alberta. We outreached to amiskwaciy Academy, which focuses on educating and enriching Aboriginal students including Aboriginal culture, values, ancestral knowledge and traditions. We wanted to find out if they would be interested in having any Bee Hotels as a learning tool about native pollinators, native plants and other studies. There was considerable interest, as well as for advice on native plantings on berms at the school, and we connected the academy to the Edmonton Native Plants Group. The academy was also interested in our Bee Hotel blueprints as potential projects for shop students. This project is ongoing.
EALT has always recognized that Canada’s land may be now owned by public or private entities, but that it was originally stewarded by Indigenous peoples. We view those lands that EALT secures, as our responsibility to steward for future generations, and our many community volunteers share this view. We reflected on the thousands of years that original peoples were supported by the land, and also stewarded the land, and felt we should recognize this stewardship, which so resembles our own work. At the beginning of our field work volunteer events, we acknowledge Indigenous people as the original stewards of the land.
Little did we know how very much this was appreciated, until we heard one of our volunteers giving a CBC interview.
In 2017, we began to pilot interpretive guides to some of our conservation lands, and acknowledged Indigenous people as the original stewards of the land in our interpretive booklets.
EALT felt that further recognition of the link between language and traditional culture would be appropriate, by considering how to feature Cree names for select conservation lands. Our intent was to place such names beside the English names on physical signs on the land as well as on our website, so that readers could find more in-depth information about the meaning and process of Cree naming. Amiskwaciy Academy was also very interested in a Cree naming project, and after consultation with Elders and staff, they suggested a collaboration with MacEwan University, with whom they share an Indigenous Studies dual credit program.
Both amiskwaciy Academy and MacEwan University were enthusiastic about not only the study opportunity for students, but about the sense of responsibility and pride which could be generated in this examination of the land and their traditional roots, and the significance of names. EALT turned over the determination of the Cree name entirely to them.
The first step was to select the specific conservation area to be given a Cree name, and then to develop a process which would be practical, and be appropriate for naming. The land selected was Glory Hills, 110 acres of lakes, wetlands and woods north of Stony Plain, which supports a wide variety of plant and animal life.
The process included guidance by Elders, considerable background research, examining the inventory of species that EALT had compiled, researching the uses of various plants and their cultural significance, holding discussions, and organizing a student field trip to the land itself, to get a real ‘feel’ for the land and how it ‘spoke’ to them. After arriving at a few names, they consulted with their Elders, before finally selecting a name.
Their Professor at MacEwan found this a challenging, but innovative task.
This was the final name selected for Glory Hills. The students then prepared a power point and presented their process to EALT staff and Directors, each taking turns in describing the naming process and their experiences on the land.
They described how the rich variety of native species found at Glory Hills inspired them to give the property the Cree name maskihkîy meskanaw, since it means Medicine Trail.
They were clearly delighted to work on this project which had great significance for them, and felt a responsibility to respond well to the challenge, and looked forward to showing their families the land. They also presented this project, which was the focus of an entire semester, at MacEwan’s Student Research Day.
EALT has continued our connection with amiskwaciy Academy, with the students cutting and burning a sign in their wood working shop.
EALT has had a moose mascot for some years, and this furry little guy has popped up at our Conservation Lands, information booths, and elsewhere, on a regular basis as #MooseOnTheLooseEALT.
EALT recently held a naming contest for our moose, which generated dozens of suggested names, and many more entries. We’re very happy that the name selected by the public was môswa, the Cree name for moose. How fitting! We even have a pronunciation guide here.