By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Earlier this month, the city of Edmonton announced that construction of Canada’s first-ever urban Indigenous cultural site is set to begin.
The new site is called kihciy askiy, which means “sacred land” in Cree, and is planned to be a 4.5-hectare plot of land within Whitemud Park, just south of Fox Drive.
The project, which is in partnership between the city and the Indigenous Knowledge and Wisdom Centre, is expected to take anywhere from 18 to 24 months — with an estimated $4.5 million price tag.
Clayton Kootenay, CEO of the Indigenous Knowledge and Wisdom Centre, said during the ground blessing ceremony held in September, “At kihciy askiy we are building a gathering place for future generations, a place to promote our languages, cultures, and facilitate intergenerational learning, as well as a place to engage in reconciliation.”
“As part of this ground blessing we are asking Mother Earth for permission to build on the land site so it can serve all of her children.”
The undoubtedly important site will provide Indigenous peoples within the city a place to host ceremonies, sweat lodges, feasts, and group workshops — indigenous people will also be able to grow herbs and medicines.
Lewis Cardinal, project manager for the site, told CBC, “Right now we’re the only people who have to leave town in order to do our ceremonies.
“We don’t have a cathedral, a mosque or a temple that we can easily get to, but now we have kihciy askiy — sacred land that is our temple, our mosque and our cathedral.”
When it opens, the site will feature:
– Circular area for four sweat lodges and a permanent ceremonial stone heating device
with a water source
– Circular area for tipis with permanent feast fire pit for ceremonies and group workshops
– Large tent gathering area for ceremonial feasts and cultural teachings
– Pavilion with washrooms, locker rooms, gathering room and storage for ceremonial items
– 50 gravel parking stalls and two gravel bus parkings stalls
– Six-metre wide gravel road with turnaround for emergency vehicles
The city also says that the site will eventually include a storage building with a built-in amphitheatre, along with more landscaping and walking paths.
“Young people will be in the urban centres in the future and we have to be prepared for that,” Cardinal said.
“We know that when Indigenous people are connected into that cultural and spiritual tradition that they do a lot better. It helps in identity formation, it reinforces cultural tradition and generally makes the individual stronger, but also makes the community stronger.
“This is a great way to help break down the barriers that are created by ignorance.”
In 2016, Native Counselling Services of Alberta created the Counsel of Elders to work with the Project Team during the design and construction of the site.
Cardinal said they spoke to approximately 120 Elders across Canada about the project.
“This is a long-awaited project that the Indigenous community and elders and Indigenous leaders had envisioned some time ago,” said Cardinal.
“A place where Indigenous people can come and pray and do their basic ceremonies.”