Blackfoot dance history returned to the community

By Naomi Brand

On June 21st, coinciding with National Aboriginal Day, a large piece of traditional Blackfoot (Kainai) knowledge was handed back to the community in a most un-traditional way. A collection of interviews about Blackfoot culture and traditional dances generated through the work of a group of researchers was handed over to the Blackfoot community in the form of CDs and DVDs. The interviews are a part of a five-year-long project by University of Lethbridge researchers Lisa Doolittle (theatre arts) and Troy Emery Twigg (Native American Studies) and University of Calgary’s Anne Flynn (dance) entitled “Blackfoot Dance History: Selected Perspectives”. Beginning with the criminalization of indigenous dances such as sun dances and give-away ceremonies, which were made illegal through changes to Canada’s Indian Act in the late 1800s, the researchers looked at various forms of Blackfoot dance from the perspective of several elders and young people in Southern Alberta Blackfoot communities. “To us as outsiders, the resilience of this community in the face of multiple assaults on their way of life is most striking, and that resilience is powerfully expressed in the unbroken practice of dance ceremonies, and in the immense popularity of dance competitions and in contemporary artistic expression,” says Doolittle. The materials will be housed in the Blackfoot Digital Library at Red Crow College and will also be made accessible to the public through the University of Lethbridge library. The research is part of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada–funded investigation into dance and multiculturalism in Canada.

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