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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Aboriginal Talking Dictionary

Waterton Lakes Long before the explorers, fur traders and settlers came to what became Alberta, landmarks and communities had Aboriginal names in Dene, Cree and Blackfoot. While Aboriginal names were transcribed by toponymic scholars and there are over 900 such places in Alberta, the larger issue of Aboriginal naming has not been comprehensively addressed. In 1993, the Friends of Geographical Names of Alberta and the Geographical Names Program, Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, initiated a project that would involve Aboriginal communities in the naming of places - the Native Mapping Project. This was viewed as a tool for the formal recognition of Native values and traditions within Native lands and beyond their boundaries.

In doing this important work, the Friends of Geographical Names of Alberta realized that a serious concern in Aboriginal communities was the loss of Aboriginal languages. The concept of the Friends undertaking a Aboriginal "Talking Dictionary" was first discussed in 2005. Questions that arose included: "Who should the Friends approach in the Aboriginal Communities? What would we want these communities to tell us? Where should we begin? Why should the Friends pursue this project? How will we accomplish our goals and objectives?"

The concept evolved involving Friends' Executive Director Wendy Pearce and various Board members. A seminar offered at Hobbema served as a catalyst and, in particular, discussions with Roy Lewis of the Samson Cree and Jack Gladstone of the Montana Blackfeet. Both shared their ideas, their warnings and, most of all, their support. The common sentiment was that they wanted the stories of their People and their Land told to all Albertans. The Friends had the support of Dr. Jack Ives and Merrily K. Aubrey, Geographical Names Program Coordinator.

Dr. Ives shared his work with the Blackfoot and suggested the Friends use one tribe as our source and Ms. Aubrey recommended a focus on Aboriginal Place Names. The Mission of the Friends is: "To educate all Albertans about the historical and geographical significance of Alberta's Place names." Alberta's Toponomy is based on Community and so, in keeping with that model, the Friends decided on a project that would enable Aboriginal People to talk about their stories, their people and their land. The protocol developed involved an Elder telling the stories, and an Aboriginal artist painting the pictures. The beneficiaries of this work will be all Albertans as we learn of the richness that Aboriginal People bring to our collective heritage. The first to be completed is the Blackfoot Talking Dictionary. The Talking Dictionary project will also become an Aboriginal Namedropper Program that will assist teachers to engage grade 4 and other students with various aspects of the Aboriginal history of the province through the study of geographical place names.

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            For more on place names of Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

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