Celebrating National Aboriginal Day

A large collection of interviews about Blackfoot culture and traditional dances, compiled by a pair of University of Lethbridge researchers and their colleagues, will return to the Blackfoot (Kainai) community in a most un-traditional way – on DVDs, CDs, and with a 'digital deposit' to the Blackfoot Digital Library at Red Crow College.

University of Lethbridge researchers Lisa Doolittle (theatre arts) and Troy Emery Twigg (Native American studies), along with Anne Flynn (kinesiology) from the University of Calgary and their colleagues, will be handing back to the community all the materials generated by their five-year-long research project which investigated the various forms of Blackfoot dance from the perspective of several elders and young people in Southern Alberta Blackfoot communities.

An archival image of a traditional Blackfoot pow wow. Courtesy Glenbow Museum.

The ceremony will take place Monday, June 21 to coincide with National Aboriginal Day.

"Traditionally, when elders passed on knowledge, it was the duty of the learner to ensure it would benefit the whole community and be returned to the community," says Emery Twigg. "This very contemporary digital format is a new way of transferring ancient knowledge."

Beginning with the criminalization of indigenous dances, such as sun dances and give-away ceremonies, which were made illegal through changes to Canada's Indian Act in the late 1800s, the researchers looked at a wide range of dance practices and collected in-depth information through interviews with selected elders and young people.

"To us as outsiders, the resilience of this community in the face of multiple assaults on their way of life is most striking, and that resilience is powerfully expressed in the unbroken practice of dance ceremonies, and in the immense popularity of dance competitions and in contemporary artistic expression," says Doolittle.

If the overall aim of the project is to stimulate conversation and increase research about dance and related aspects of Blackfoot life over the past century, opening the collection of materials up to the worldwide community puts a whole new perspective on the traditional method of transferring knowledge, according to a Red Crow College spokesperson.

"If this sort of transfer were to become a trend, there would be far less strain in relationships between native communities and universities and other institutions like museums," says Ryan Heavy Head, who has been instrumental in initiating and managing the digital library.

"The collaboration of Red Crow College and the Kainai Studies/Blackfoot Digital Library initiative enables wide distribution, allowing others to see the materials for themselves, and reinterpret and reuse them."

Local community members, teachers, international scholars and any interested members of the public will be able to easily access videos, sound recordings and print materials through the Blackfoot Digital Library.

The materials are also accessible through the University of Lethbridge Library web pages through a link to the Blackfoot Digital Library. Red Crow College partnered with the University of Lethbridge Library to establish the Blackfoot Digital Library.

Researchers Doolittle and Flynn, who titled their project "Blackfoot Dance History: Selected Perspectives," investigated how dancing affects identity and influences public policies both within communities and in cross-cultural situations. They have presented aspects of this research at international conferences in the UK, the United States and Canada, and, along with Emery Twigg, will be featured plenary speakers at the International Conference of the American Society for Theatre Research in Seattle in November.

The project is part of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council–funded investigation into dance and multiculturalism in Canada, and has received additional funding from the University of Lethbridge Research Fund and the University Scholars program.

To view a brief video clip of elders speaking about Blackfoot dance, follow this link.