Aboriginal Heritage Section

National Aboriginal Day 2017

Photo Credit: Travel Alberta/Sean Thonson

Happy National Aboriginal Day!

National Aboriginal Day was announced in 1996 by, then Governor General of Canada, Roméo LeBlanc on June 21st—the summer solstice. This week, and throughout the month of June, we recognize and celebrate the achievements and contributions of Indigenous Peoples in what is today known as Alberta and Canada. During this year of celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation, it is particularly important to remember the First Peoples who came before, and the thriving, contemporary First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities that continue to shape our country today.

Edmontonians are invited for stew and bannock at the Bissell Centre from 10:00AM – 2:00PM, or enjoy the day-long Aboriginal Day Live festivities at Victoria Park.

Live in Calgary? The University of Calgary is hosting a campfire chat on St. Patrick’s Island, discussing Indigenous perspectives of the cosmos through traditional storytelling, or spend your Saturday at the Family Day Festival and Powwow at the Stampede grounds.

Events are taking place throughout the week and across the province. Join us in taking the time to connect with our community, learn from one another and reflect on what it means to be a Canadian and Treaty person during this summer of celebration.

Event Listings:

Indigenous Relations’ 2017 National Aboriginal Day Events in Alberta: http://indigenous.alberta.ca/documents/NAD-Events-Alberta-June-2017.pdf?0.1319647190237596

City of Edmonton’s National Aboriginal Day Community Events: https://www.edmonton.ca/attractions_events/schedule_festivals_events/national-aboriginal-day.aspx

Aboriginal Awareness Week Calgary: http://www.aawc.ca

Written By: Laura Golebiowski (Aboriginal Consultation Adviser)

National Aboriginal Day 2016

Photo Credit: Government of Alberta

Photo Credit: Government of Alberta

The Historic Resources Management Branch is privileged to work with and learn from Indigenous communities in Alberta. On June 21, we join Canadians nation-wide in celebrating National Aboriginal Day. Now in its 20th official year, National Aboriginal Day provides an opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples alike to come together in recognition of the histories, cultures and contributions of First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples in our province and across the country. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) has put together a great video to celebrate the 20th Anniversary.

Whether you take in a film at Edmonton’s Amiskwaciy History Series’ Film Festival, check out the festivities at Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, visit the Friendship Centre in your community or commemorate the day in your own way, take the time to remember: we are all Treaty people.

A listing of 2016 National Aboriginal Day events in Alberta can be found here.

Written By: Laura Golebiowski, Aboriginal Consultation Advisor

Historic Burial near Viking, Alberta: A story of excavation, ceremony and community

In late August 2015, Brian Rozmahel, a farmer near the Town of Viking, was working in one of his fields. He recently experienced problems with gophers causing damage to his crops and decided to set up several traps as a preventative measure. One morning he went out to check the traps he set the day before and discovered something he was not expecting to find. A badger got to the site overnight and dug into the gopher burrows. Quite a bit of earth was brought up through the badger’s digging. However, there was more than just earth that was surfaced by the badger. Resting on the ground near the burrows were human remains and other items such as buttons and beads.

When Brian encountered the remains he immediately contacted the Viking Detachment of the RCMP. The RCMP cordoned off the site and did an initial investigation of the area. In the meantime, the exposed human remains were sent to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) for further analysis.

In consultation with forensic anthropologist, Pamela Mayne-Correia, the OCME concluded that the human remains were historic in nature and were likely of a young Aboriginal individual. The RCMP deemed the situation to not be criminal and the Historic Resources Management Branch (HRMB) was then contacted by the OCME. As the remains were considered historic, the HRMB now had jurisdiction over the site. (more…)

National Aboriginal Day 2015

Photo Credit: Travel Alberta/Sean Thonson

Photo Credit: Travel Alberta/Sean Thonson

Sunday, June 21 marks National Aboriginal Day—an opportunity to take time to learn, acknowledge and celebrate the rich contributions Canada’s First Nations, Metis and Inuit have made to our country. Officially proclaimed in 1996, National Aboriginal Day is now recognized nation-wide as part of a series of Celebrate Canada days.

If you live in Edmonton, APTN’s  Aboriginal Day Live & Celebration will be hosted in Louise McKinney Park on Saturday, June 20 and additional community events will be held throughout the week.

Aboriginal Awareness Week Calgary’s theme this year is ‘Keeping the Circle Strong,’ with events taking place June 14 – 21. Additional events in Alberta are listed here.

Is your community hosting a National Aboriginal Day event? Share it with us in the comments below!

Written By: Laura Golebiowski, Aboriginal Consultation Advisor

Consulting Alberta’s Aboriginal Communities

My name is Laura Golebiowski and I am pleased to introduce myself as one of the branch’s Aboriginal Consultation Advisors. If you read RETROactive regularly, you know about the work of my colleagues in the Archaeology, Land Use Planning and Historic Places Stewardship sections. I’d like to introduce you to the work of the Aboriginal Heritage Section.

The Aboriginal Heritage Section works with Aboriginal communities to help preserve and protect traditional use sites of a historical nature. Traditional use sites may include historic cabins, campsites, burials, plant or mineral harvesting areas, as well as ceremonial or spiritual sites. Well-known Provincial Historic Resources such as the Viking Ribstones Archaeological Site or Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump also have present-day significance to some Aboriginal communities.

Traditional use sites, along with archaeological, palaeontological and historic structures, are recorded in the Listing of Historic Resources—a regularly-updated database intended as a tool for developers to determine if lands contain or have high potential to contain historic resources.

Due to the sensitive and confidential nature of traditional use sites, the Listing identifies a 360-acre buffer area around each recorded feature, rather than providing the exact site location. This ensures that our team learns of any proposed development which may potentially impact known sites and can therefore provide further direction to the developer. Under the Historical Resources Act, we can order a developer to avoid a known traditional use site, or consult with the affected First Nation on ways to mitigate the damage.

The Historical Resources Management Branch strives to build relationships with the Aboriginal communities in Alberta and that’s the bulk of what I do. The Aboriginal Heritage Section works hard to balance our regulatory responsibilities with outreach efforts and field work (which is the fun parts!). Our role in the branch is really to provide a service and a tool for First Nations in the protection of their cultural sites. We meet with communities to explain how the Listing works and how the inclusion of their traditional use sites could protect them. We field-verify known sites with community representatives to ensure information and locations are accurate. We engage with various communities to ensure that Aboriginal perspectives are incorporated into the interpretation of Alberta’s historic resources. My colleagues and I fight over who gets to take the blue jeep versus who gets to take the red jeep into the field. This is our ‘daily grind’—and we love it.

For me, the joy in this job is recognizing that traditional use sites can be both ancient and contemporary—they can be locations or sites that are actively used today, just as they have been for thousands of years. It is remarkable to visit a medicine wheel that dates back thousands of years and see new blankets and offerings placed at it. Helping to protect these places, so that these practices can continue, is something the Aboriginal Heritage Section is very happy to do.

Written by: Laura Golebiowski, Aboriginal Consultation Advisor.

National Aboriginal Day 2014


The Historic Resources Management Branch of Alberta Culture works with Aboriginal communities to help preserve and protect their cultural heritage sites. Alberta Culture also recognizes the benefit of working collaboratively with Aboriginal communities on the promotion and interpretation of Aboriginal cultural heritage and welcomes inquiries from communities who would like assistance in this regard.

June 21 is National Aboriginal Day, a day for all Canadians to celebrate the cultures and contributions to Canada of First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples. The history of National Aboriginal Day harkens back to 1982 when the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations) called for the creation of National Aboriginal Solidarity Day to be celebrated on June 21. Thirteen years later in 1995, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended that a National First Peoples Day be designated. National Aboriginal Day is now part of a series of Celebrate Canada days, beginning with National Aboriginal Day and followed by the National Holiday of Quebec on June 24, Canadian Multiculturalism Day on June 27, and concluding with Canada Day on July 1.

Edmonton is celebrating National Aboriginal day as a week-long event. Here is a list of exciting events to partake in; I hope to see you there!

Written By: Andrea Menard, Aboriginal Consultation Advisor.

Okotoks Big Rock – Managing Vandalism with Technology

The word ‘Okotoks’ translates from the Blackfoot language as ‘Big Rock.’ The name was given by the resident indigenous people to a very large boulder that is known as a glacial erratic – boulders that have been moved from their original location by glacial ice. Okotoks is by far the largest erratic in Alberta; it is about the size of a two-story house and is estimated to weigh nearly seven million kilograms. The Big Rock is a well-known landmark in southern Alberta. It is a designated provincial historic resource owned by the Government of Alberta, and is accessible to the public by means of a hiking trail, signage and a parking lot. What is not well-known is that the Okotoks Big Rock has a great deal of Aboriginal rock art painted on its surfaces.

Okotoks Big Rock Erratic

Okotoks Big Rock Erratic

Rock art includes pictographs (paintings) made with a red paint composed of iron-rich hematite (red ochre). The existence of a few red ochre images on the Big Rock has been known for decades, but the revolution in digital photography and image enhancement has brought to light a whole lot more art on the Okotoks erratic than previously known. Specifically, we now know that some areas of the rocks were extensively rubbed with red ochre. Since these red areas lack definable rock art figures like humans and animals, it was long believed that the red blotches were simply part of the rocks’ natural colour. Through enhancement we can now pick out hand prints and finger swipes, telling us these red blotches were indeed made by human beings.

Rock art at Okotoks Big Rock

Rock art at Okotoks Big Rock

Photo-enhanced areas of red ochre smeared on Okotoks Erratic. Note hand prints at top.

Photo-enhanced areas of red ochre smeared on Okotoks Erratic. Note hand prints at top.

All rock art sites are sacred to Native people; rock art represents communication between human beings and the spirit world. Blackfoot people still visit the Okotoks site, conduct ceremonies, and hold the site in great reverence. Thus, it is all the more sad and frustrating that the Okotoks erratic has been subjected to extensive and increasingly frequent bouts of vandalism. As the site is operated by the province and is open to the public, there comes a point where some action needs to be taken. It is an eyesore, an embarrassment and severely disrespectful to the Blackfoot beliefs about the sacred character of the rock. But what can be done with a massive rock surface covered with graffiti that underneath lies fragile, precious painted pictures that tell stories of ancient Aboriginal people?

In the past few years, serious incidences of graffiti were washed off the rock face using a high pressure water sprayer. More recently, an environmentally friendly paint stripper had been used with good success. But critical to any graffiti removal has been potential impact to underlying rock art. We realized that we could never properly manage the site until we had a high-quality “map” of the rocks that plots the complex rock structure and the locations of all the rock art images. We realized that the best way to make a physical record of the Big Rock was to record it in 3D using a portable laser scanner. While documentation won’t stop vandalism at Okotoks, it will make us much better prepared to deal with future instances in a way that protects significant historical resources.

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A partnership with the internationally respected organization CyArk was formed. CyArk is a nonprofit organization dedicated to digital recording and preservation of the world’s most significant sites. Among their credits are 3D recordings of the statues of Easter Island, Pompeii, ancient Thebes, and Mt. Rushmore. CyArk also digitally stores the 3D information for each site, serving as a world archive of heritage data. CyArk retained a local service provider to assist with the equipment and expertise to conduct the laser scanning. In early October 2013 the entire external surface of the Okotoks Big Rock, including the tops of the rocks and some internal crevices, was scanned during two days of field work. The result is a strikingly accurate rendering of the Okotoks erratic in both its geometric shape and the plotting of all known rock art images. The project also resulted in production of an accurate 1:200 scale model of the Rock that will be useful for planning and educational purposes.

3D rendering of point cloud data from laser scan at Okotoks with enhanced photography overlaid. Red areas are red ochre paint; note square-bodied human figure at upper left.

3D rendering of point cloud data from laser scan at Okotoks with enhanced photography overlaid. Red areas are red ochre paint; note square-bodied human figure at upper left.

In addition to the rendering and scale model, the project also raised awareness about negative impacts associated with graffiti and heightening understanding of the value and importance of historic resources to the community. Further Alberta Culture now has a sophisticated tool to use for site management.

Alireza Farrokhi holding 1:200 scale model of the Big Rock

Alireza Farrokhi holding 1:200 scale model of the Big Rock

Sadly, the rocks have already been subjected to more graffiti in the months since our project ended; however, we now have accurate information on the type and location of rock art that will assist in graffiti removal efforts. There are other threats to the cultural and natural significance of the Okotoks erratic. It has long been a favoured place for climbers, subdivisions are rapidly encroaching on the site, and public visitation is increasing. There are many challenges ahead in the long-term management of the Big Rock, but thanks to the careful recording conducted through Innovation Program funding we have a solid baseline of information about this very special place that will guide future management.

Written by: Jack Brink, Curator, Royal Alberta Museum and Alireza Farrokhi, Head of Conservation and Construction Services, Historic Places Stewardship