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Stoney ceremony commemorates untold Lake Louise history

Before Lake Louise received its well-known title, it was called Horâ Juthin Îmne, which translates into 'lake of the little fishes'

LAKE LOUISE – Horâ Juthin Îmne.

Boasting more than three million visitors a year, it is a name not known to many who walk through the picturesque landscape as it is not displayed on any official sign or plaque throughout the area. But it is a moniker that has been in place for centuries.

Before Lake Louise received its well-known title, it was called Horâ Juthin Îmne, which translates into 'lake of the little fishes.' It is that history and acknowledgment Stoney Nakoda was looking to share on Aug. 24 as pipe carriers, elders and Nation officials held an inaugural 'Discovery Day' ceremony on the lakefront to commemorate when Stoney guide Edwin Hunter brought European settler Tom Wilson to that exact spot on the same day in 1882.

Laughing at the decoration teepee that sits in the front, Nation members said they have been building teepees on the land for centuries.

"All the early mountaineers, early travellers who came to this area employed Stoney guides to come and find all these places ... our ancestors helped build some of these trails. Going to Beehive, Lake Agnes and Six Glaciers, but you don't ever hear or see about that," Stoney Nakoda consultant Bill Snow said before the ceremony.

It was the first time in Nation member's memory that the Stoney Nakoda erected a teepee to perform a pipe ceremony on the lands.

"If you walk over to the lakeside there, if you look at all those plaques, there is not one with the Stoney name in there," Snow said.

"That is the history that is missing here and that is what we are trying to do today, so we have some recognition in the park and also in the hotel."

Of the plaques displayed at the waterfront, one speaks about 'Ice Axes and Tea Cups' stating "Lake Louise established its tradition as a hiking and climbing centre over a century ago" while the other plaque gives the history of the Abbot Pass Hut, titled 'A Refuge for Mountaineers."

"Climbers first arrived in the 1890s on the wheels on the newly completed transcontinental railway. The lure of unclimbed peaks was irresistible," the sign reads.

The 2.4 km lake received its settler-given name in 1882 when Tom Wilson declared the spot, "Emerald Lake" which was later changed to Lake Louise in 1884 to honour Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria.

But long before Canada was recognized as a sovereign state, Indigenous groups from across North America, including Stoney Nakoda, used different areas throughout the Rocky Mountains for hunting, fishing, gathering and traditional ceremonies – until 1885.

Three years after Hunter brought Wilson to the exact spot the Stoney people had been coming to for centuries, a pass system was developed in Canada restricting Indigenous people to their designated reserves. The only way to leave was to present a travel document authorized by an Indian agent.   

The pass system was a way of controlling the movements of Indigenous people, aiming to prevent large gatherings, which was seen by many white settlers as a threat to their settlements, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia.

A descendant of the Stoney guide, current Bearspaw councillor Rod Hunter, spoke of the history.

"[Edwin] Hunter was the first person to guide someone up here ... this is a wonderful place, it has lots of spiritual power here and Eddy brought some people here, which I wish he hadn't, yah know," Rod Hunter said.

"You look at all the people here now, they are enjoying our backyard."

The Stoney reserve was established in 1877 after Chiefs Jacob Bearspaw, John Goodstoney and John Chiniki (also known as Chiniquay) signed Treaty Seven.

"These Chiefs made their marks on the Treaty document, based on the belief they were agreeing to put down their weapons to make peace, with no interruption to their use of traditional lands," the history section on the Stoney Education Authority website states.

"The [Iyethka] Nakoda were later assured they would retain three large tracts of traditional homeland, one for each group. However, the government of Canada subsequently recognized the signings with one land entitlement, rather than separate land for each group."

In 1879, the reserve land was purveyed and barbed wire was put up to outline the boundaries.

Banned from the national park for a number of years, with the exception of Banff Indian Days where Indigenous groups were invited back to entertain tourists, Hunter said this is the time for reconciliation.

"Doing pipe ceremonies, this is a time of reconciliation – you know, they have to reconcile with us because the people are the ones who took everything from us and put us way down the ladder, and now they are trying to bring us up [equal] with them," Hunter said.

Parks Canada was invited to the ceremony, with Rick Kubian, superintendent of Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay in attendance.

"Parks Canada is committed to a system of national heritage places that recognizes and honours the contributions of Indigenous peoples, their histories and cultures, as well as the special relationships Indigenous peoples have with traditional lands and waters," Parks Canada said in an emailed statement.

"The agency is committed to ensuring that Indigenous connections to Parks Canada-managed places are honoured and groups with historic ties to Banff, Yoho or Kootenay national park have the opportunity to reconnect with their traditional lands and waters."

Nation organizers said they also asked for a representative from Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise to attend, but no one was available.

Public relations regional director with the hotel, Lynn Henderson, said the Chateau was asked for logistical support.

"The relationship we have with the Stoney Nakoda Nation is an important one for us. We received an official letter from [Stoney Nakoda Nation] requesting logistical support of the event at Lake Louise and we did not hesitate to provide it, along with our well wishes for what we were certain was to be a very special ceremony," Henderson wrote in an emailed statement.

"Going forward, it would be our honour and privilege to attend any ceremony hosted by the Stoney Nakoda Nation should they wish to have us as their guest."

The Stoney Nakoda consultants said ceremonies need to happen before reconciliation conversations take place.

"I'm hoping this turns into a continuation of what needs to be done annually," Stoney consultant Chris Goodstoney said.

It is important to hear all sides of the story.

"We are not hearing the full story of this land, the way it is right now, and all the things that go with it," Snow said.

"The ceremonial places, the gathering places, understanding the habitat, living in balance with harmony and nature – not just appreciating the beauty of this place but the cultural importance of this place is missing."

Hundreds of visitors walked along the lakeshore, stopping in awe and taking photos as Hunter looked on after the pipe ceremony. In addition to being an elder and councillor, Hunter noted he is also a Sundance maker and pipe carrier.

"You know, they took advantage of us, gave us trinkets for the land," he said.

"But the main thing is we are still here and will be here forever."

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