Campus Life

ULethbridge celebrates arrival of OKI sign

After four months on display in the community at Park Place Mall, the University of Lethbridge’s OKI sign has come home to campus. 

Designed by Blackfoot artist William Singer III, Api'soomaahka (Running Coyote) (Mgt Cert ’89), the OKI sign is currently located outside the Iikaisskini Gathering Centre. Titled Saakiaitapiiyopa (We Are Still Living), the artwork arrived on campus on Tuesday, January 24.

Dr. Leroy Little Bear, vice-provost Iniskim Indigenous Relations, and Nathan Crow, Indigenous student representative, with the ULethbridge OKI sign.

“The Oki Sign project is meaningful because it really brings about reconciliation for Indigenous Peoples here in Lethbridge,” says Lindi Shade (BA ’06), manager of Iikaisskini Indigenous Services. “It's meaningful not only to myself, but to our families and communities to be acknowledged for the traditional lands of the Blackfoot territory, and it brings us together as a community. It means a lot to our community that Oki is the official welcome to Lethbridge.”

In 2019, the City of Lethbridge adopted “Oki” as the city’s official greeting. “Oki” is the Blackfoot word for “greetings” or “hello.” In addition, 2019 was the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages. To recognize these events, the City of Lethbridge Heart of Our City Committee and the Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Committee partnered to develop an OKI Sign, which is shared throughout the community at special occasions. Due to the success of this initiative, several community partners expressed interest in having their own OKI signs.

In May 2022, the City of Lethbridge, through Opportunity Lethbridge, the City’s Indigenous Relations Office and the Public Art Program, partnered with six community organizations to seek Indigenous artists to design artwork for a series of OKI Signs. This initiative seeks to celebrate Blackfoot culture and language, and the important role that “Oki” serves as a symbol of respect, understanding and reconciliation throughout the community of Sikóóhkotok (Lethbridge).

Api'soomaahka (Singer III) was selected in August 2022 to design the ULethbridge OKI sign. He is a member of the Kainai Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy and has more than 40 years experience as a professional artist and illustrator.

Each letter on the OKI sign is illustrated with symbolic artwork.

O: The image of the sweetgrass signifies the foundation of knowledge and ongoing spiritual connection with earth and cosmos. The circle of life is the base of a tipi, secured to the land with the ohkotok (rock), an important element in creation as it is the bind that made all that exists in the universe.

K: This connection to the cosmos is defined by the miohpokoiyiiks (pleiades) at the top of the tipi. The north or “opposite” has the iihkitsikamm (the dipper) or the seven stars.

I: Since time immemorial, the Niitsitapi have adapted to many changes as represented by the matapi (figure) and is sign language for Kainai, a division of the Blackfoot Confederacy. Below the figure are three symbols that represent sign language for: “As long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow.” We all share the land.

All six signs were unveiled at Park Place Mall on September 28, 2022, in conjunction with Reconciliation Week. ULethbridge is excited to welcome its OKI sign to campus.

“At the University of Lethbridge, we need to ensure Indigenous students and staff are equally represented on campus and recognize the knowledge that Indigenous Peoples can bring to these spaces,” says Shade. “It means a lot that our students can be on campus and learn our culture and history, and that starts with the Oki Sign.”

The ULethbridge OKI sign may be moved to various campus locations throughout the year.

Additional OKI sign community partners include: Primaris (Park Place Mall), Galt Museum & Archives, Lethbridge Public Library, Lethbridge Agri-Food Hub & Trade Centre (Lethbridge and District Exhibition Society) and the Allied Arts Council of Lethbridge.