Stoney Nakoda propose new name for Banff mountain

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It is officially registered with the Geographical Names Board of Canada for a tunnel that was never carved through it during the westward march of progress by the railway, but Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park could soon have a much more historic title and one that honours the Indigenous people of the Bow Valley.

The Indigenous place name for Tunnel Mountain is “Iinii Istako” in Blackfoot, or “Eyarhey Tatanga Woweyahgey Wakân” in Stoney Nakoda, and translates to Sacred Buffalo Guardian Mountain in English, explained Bill Snow with the Stoney Nakoda Tribal Administration.

After the historic signing of the Buffalo Treaty in Banff last Thursday (Sept. 29), signatories of the 15 First Nations gathered signed a resolution put forward by the Stoney Nakoda as part of the ceremony. The resolution calls for the beginning of an official process with the Geographical Names Board of Canada to rename Tunnel Mountain.

Snow spoke briefly about the resolution on Sunday (Oct. 2) at the book launch of The Last of the Buffalo Return to the Wild by Banff author and editor Harvey Locke.

Snow said recently, Stoney Nakoda elders held a ceremony near the Banff Centre and were able to talk about the names for different places as part of an ongoing dialogue within the community.

“Because we could not entail all the different stories living in these places, the translation we came up with is Sacred Buffalo Guardian Mountain, which generally describes the purpose of how we see Tunnel Mountain; acting as the guardian spirit of this valley,” Snow said.

Banff-based Bison Belong helped organize the second anniversary signing of the Buffalo Treaty and the annual American Bison Society conference, held for the first time in Canada last week. The resolutions passed came as a result of both meetings taking place in Banff last week.

Marie-Eve Marchand with Bison Belong said having the full support of those gathered for the treaty signing, an already historic event, shows the important historic and cultural role bison hold for Indigenous people.

Marchand will undertake the effort needed to submit the official renaming of the mountain to the appropriate process with the Geological Names Board, including gathering letters expressing support from stakeholders like Parks Canada. Christina Tricomi with the federal agency’s communication’s department indicated this week Parks Canada is supportive of the renaming process.

Marchand said with the support of Indigenous leaders and a federal agency to undertake the name change process, she hopes it will also garner support within the community of Banff.

The board is a function of Natural Resources Canada and is comprised of federal, provincial and territorial departments and agencies, each with specific authority and responsibility for their respective jurisdictions.

According to the resolution, the signatories support the name Sacred Buffalo Guardian Mountain to best capture the meaning of the culturally and spiritually important place.

“The name reflects the belief that this sacred mountain stands guard over the many healing waters, medicines, habitat and climate conditions that the Stoney Nakoda have used and understood for generations,” states the resolution.

The resolution also details how important it is to name places with the correct translations in English of Indigenous languages, because historically there have been miscommunications and misinterpretations.

“As such, current interpretations and translation do not carry the full meaning important to Indigenous people,” states the resolution.

Hence the name being supported is Sacred Buffalo Guardian Mountain, and not Sleeping Buffalo as many locals have been known to refer to the mountain that sits in the valley looking very much in its profile and shape like a buffalo lying on the ground.

Tunnel Mountain, meanwhile, is a strange name for a mountain without a tunnel through it, but it is one that told the story of the Canadian Pacific Railway heading west through the Rocky Mountains.

Surveyors first considered blasting a tunnel through the mountain as they made their way through the Bow Valley in the 1880s. When another route for the iron horse was found, though, the tunnel was abandoned, but the name stuck.

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