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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

First People

The First People have influenced our naming heritage more than any other ethnic group in Alberta. From North to South, East to West, Aboriginal names abound, bearing witness to the extensive history of the First People within Alberta. Approximately 25% of all of Alberta's place names are of Aboriginal origin. Whether it's a word from one of the many Aboriginal languages or it's simply significant of and to the multitude of Aboriginal cultures that exist in Alberta, our landscape and our heritage are entrenched in the First Nations.

Battle Creek, 60 km southeast of Medicine Hat, crossing the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary, was named after a battle between American wolf hunters and a small group from the Assiniboine Nation, led by Chief Little Soldier. The Americans, missing several horses, came upon Little Soldiers group and accused them of horse theft. An argument ensued and gunfire soon followed. Although outnumbered, the Americans killed at least 20 members of the Assiniboine Nation. This incident, which took place in 1873, became known as the Cypress Hills Massacre.

Blackfoot, 12 km west of Lloydminster, was previously known as Blackfoot Hills due to its proximity to the hills which were the hunting grounds of the Blackfoot and which witnessed many battles between the Blackfoot and the Cree.

Crowfoot Creek, 110 km southeast of Calgary was named for the head Chief of the Blackfoot confederacy, Saho-Muxika-Sapo-Mukikow. Crowfoot was considered a very able negotiator and not a warrior. He kept his people at peace with the white settlers even during the 1885 North West Rebellion. He signed Treaty 7 in 1877.

Cypress Hills, 45 km southeast of Medicine Hat, is a translation from the French name, les Montagnes des Cypres, which was given to this region by the Red River Métis, who had travelled west to hunt bison and trade with other groups. The Métis incorrectly identified different types of trees as Le Cypre while travelling west from Manitoba. Thus, they gave the name of Les Montagnes des Cypres to this region. The English settlers then anglicised the name to Cypress Hills, although the French term that the Métis gave actually means "Cypress Mountains." These hills have many names. In Cree, Mi-na-ti-kak or Ne-a-ti-kak, meaning beautiful highlands in Stoney, Pa-ha-toonga, meaning thunder building hills and in Blackfoot, Aiekunekwe, meaning the hills of whispering pines.

Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Head Jump, 67 km west of Lethbridge, is a direct translation Itsipa-sikkih-kinih-kootsiya-opi. This spot, one of many, was used by the First Nations for thousands of years as a means to capture and kill large numbers of buffalo. The animals were driven over steep cliffs like this, many dying on impact due to their top-heavy shapes. This is now a provincial historic site as well as a World Heritage Site. A Peigan Blackfoot legend states that a young man stood under the shelter of a ledge to witness a buffalo jump. However, as the bodies mounted, he became trapped between the animals and the cliff. He was later found with his skull crushed by the weight of the buffalo. They named the place after him: where he got his head smashed in.

Job Creek, 90 km east southeast of Jasper, was named after Job Beaver, a member of the Stoney Nation. It is due to his talents as a guide and explorer that A.P. Coleman named this feature after him, although the two never met.

Kahwin, 17 km southeast of Smoky Lake, apparently means Ano in Sioux and is said to reflect the opposition to another name proposed for the site: it being A Ostashekwhich happens to be the last name of a settler and the first postmaster (1912-1917), M.H. Ostashek.

Nanuche Lake, 182 km east southeast of High Level, takes its name from the Nanuche family, highly respected members of the Fox Lake Nation. Peter Nanuche was a lifetime member of the council for this Nation. An outstanding leader of his people and an excellent trapper, Peter Nanuche died in 1929. The lake was named after him in 1908 as it falls almost in the centre of this family's traditional trapping grounds. Members of his family still trap here.

Notikiwin, 6 km north of Manning, took its name from the adjacent river. It is a form of Notenaygewn, meaning "battle" in Cree. The river was formerly known as First Battle River due to an early battle in the area between the Beaver and the Cree. However, they chose this name to avoid duplication with other Battle Rivers in the province.

Sounding Lake, 2 km southwest of Provost, is a name possibly originating from one of two Aboriginal legends. One states that an eagle with a snake in its claws flew out of the lake resulting in a rumbling noise similar to thunder. Another maintains that the Buffalo were born from the depths of the water resulting in these mysterious rumbling sounds.

Wapiti, the name of a locality southwest of Grande Prairie, is a Cree word for "elk," a characteristic species of the Parkland until the arrival of the fur-traders. Elk are now limited to the mountains and foothills of the Rockies.

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