Indigenous-Led Nature Walks: Land-Based Learning in Mohkinstsis (Calgary) + Sik-Ooh-Kotoki (Lethbridge)

In 2023, funding from the Field Law Community Fund Program supported two Indigenous-led nature walks with Api’soomaahka (Running Coyote) – one at Helen Schuler Nature Centre in Sik-Ooh-Kotoki (Lethbridge) and one to celebrate the summer solstice in Nose Hill Park in Mohkinstsis (Calgary). On May 13 in Sik-Ooh-Kotoki, 15 participants explored about 2 kms of flat, accessible paved and gravel pathways meandering among the open flood plain and mature cottonwood trees of the Oldman River Valley. On June 21 in Mohkinstsis, 30 participants hiked up to a grassland “classroom”, surrounded by views of the open prairie in all directions. CPAWS Indigenous Event Consultant and Guide Sierra Shade successfully brought Indigenous voices to life while following Indigenous protocol, protecting the Indigenous knowledge being shared, and facilitating a secure environment that fostered experiential learning. The walk leader, Api’soomaahka, is a member of the Kainai Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy. An artist and illustrator with 40 years of experience, he roots his work in the Niitsítapi worldview and much of his work is imbued with an ethic of environmentalism. He currently operates Naapi’s Garden and Katoyiss Seed Bank and is a member of the Kainai Ecosystem Protection Association and the Oldman Watershed Council.

The land-based learning walks positively impacted individuals and families in the Calgary and Lethbridge regions. 100% of surveyed participants indicated that they learned about Indigenous knowledge from Api’soomaahka and that the nature walk was interesting and fun. Some of their favourite parts of the program were:

  • “The guide and knowledge keeper were so generous with their time and expertise. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to spend time with them.” 
  • “Variety of knowledge from Indigenous name to more common names of plants, their uses and Nappa stories as to how those uses were discovered.”
  • “The stories, especially about Naapi, and the observations along the way while pointing out different aspects about plants, their uses, etc.”
  • “The Elder shared his food with us and showed us examples of the plants and berries he was talking about. It was very informative.”
  • “I enjoy learning from Indigenous teachers and the circular style of learning along with relevant stories to put it in perspective and relate everything back to the people and the land. The hands on (edible samples) was just great!”

The walks have a ripple effect in the community, as participants share their experience with friends, family, and colleagues. The participants also made the following commitments for taking care of nature:

  • “Look at things a little bit differently!”
  • “Be more aware of how to protect nature and the priorities of actions that are needed.”
  • “Shopping locally and eating seasonally.”
  • “Plant native species instead of lawn at my house”
  • “By sharing my experiences in and with nature with others; by opposing the destruction of nature for aesthetic or commercial reasons; by weaning myself off non-renewable resources.”

Thank you to Field Law for helping to uplift Indigenous voices, knowledge, and conservation in southern Alberta!