New City partnership says "Oki" to six community organizations

The City of Lethbridge has partnered with six organizations within the community to continue the celebration of Blackfoot culture and the City’s official greeting, Oki.

In 2019, the City of Lethbridge, Heart of Our City Committee (HOC) and the Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Committee (RLAC) partnered to develop an Oki sign as part of the celebration of the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages and the adoption of Oki as the official greeting of the City of Lethbridge. Since then, the City’s two Oki signs have been seen throughout the community at special events and celebrations.

“Looking back to where this started as a partnership with RLAC and HOC, the main outcome was creating opportunity for community connection to our urban core, in particular our public places,” says the City’s Urban Revitalization Manager, Andrew Malcolm. “Something that draws community in, allows organizations and business to know they are part of something special, and that all residents feel welcome, safe and proud to be part of it.”

Based on the success of the initiative, various community partners came forward and expressed interest in having their own Oki signs. Over the past several months, the City has been working with this group of partners on the continuation of the community-wide placemaking project. The six new signs have been commissioned to feature individual bespoke Indigenous artwork. The signs will be hosted by the following partner organizations;

  • Primaris (Park Place Mall),
  • The University of Lethbridge,
  • Galt Museum and Archives,
  • Lethbridge Public Library,
  • Allied Arts Council and
  • Lethbridge and District Exhibition

The purpose of this continued initiative is to celebrate Blackfoot culture and language across the community and to celebrate the important role that Oki has come to play in our community as a symbol of respect, understanding and reconciliation – and the hallmark of Sikóóhkotok (Lethbridge). Community members and visitors are encouraged to seek out the new Oki signs and engage with each of them in their new locations across the City.

The total budget for this project was $75,000 with partners contributing approximately 53 per cent of the funds. City funding was cost-shared between the Opportunity Lethbridge and Indigenous Relations departments and approved in the previous Capital Improvement Plan operating budget.

A selection committee comprised of the partner organizations and facilitated by the City’s Public Art Program, met and selected six pieces of art by Indigenous artists in August 2022.

“We at the Galt Museum & Archives / Akaisamitohkanao’pa are incredibly honoured to host and showcase an Oki sign designed by Api’soomaahka (William Singer III). As a gathering place for all, the opportunity to connect the land with its people is incredibly powerful and meaningful. Building respectful relationships with community members of Indigenous and non-indigenous descent continues to be a priority for the organization. This sign demonstrates our commitment to exploring new and innovative ways in which we work collaboratively with our stakeholders to establish what it means to create a sense of place and belonging.”

  • Darrin J Martens, Aaká óóhkotoki (Many rocks), CEO / Executive Director, Galt Museum & Archives /Akaisamitohkanao'pa (eternal gathering place)

“In keeping with the Library’s mission to be a welcoming, inclusive space that connects and strengthens community through equitable access to learning and leisure, the Library is proud to acknowledge and honour the traditional occupants of this land through the promotion of the Blackfoot language in our spaces. The Oki sign will welcome all who visit the Library in the official greeting of our City, and the traditional language of our territory. The design, provided by local artist Sandra Lamouche, is ideal to represent the Library as a place for everyone living, working or visiting our community. “

  • Terra Plato, CEO, Lethbridge Public Library

“The Oki Sign project is meaningful because it really brings about reconciliation for Indigenous Peoples here in Lethbridge. It's meaningful not only to myself, but to our families and communities to be acknowledged for the traditional lands of the Blackfoot territory, and it brings us together as a community. It means a lot to our community that Oki is the official welcome to Lethbridge. At the University of Lethbridge, we need to ensure that Indigenous students and staff are equally represented on campus and recognize the knowledge that Indigenous Peoples can bring to these spaces. It means a lot that our students can be on campus and learn our culture and history, and that starts with the Oki sign.”

  • Lindi Shade, Manager of ikaissini-Indigenous Student Centre, U of L

“I wanted to get involved with this project because I believe that reconciliation through art is so important and the City of Lethbridge is making great strides in this realm through creating opportunities for Indigenous artists to thrive in this new world. My art for these signs reflects connection and history and I hope that those who see it will take the time to learn more about this place called Sikohkiitoki and the first peoples of this land and our shared history.”

  • Cheyenne (Naatoiyiki) McGinnis, Artist

“As the Allied Arts Council of Lethbridge and Casa continue to move forward with inclusive programming, the Oki Sign project is a meaningful reflection of our internal values and the values we wish to see reflected in our community. Having an Oki sign present at Casa is especially relevant after the recent naming ceremony for the Saokitapi Gallery space, which will be curated by Niitsiitapi artist, educator and researcher Star Crop Eared Wolf over the next five years. As an arts organization, we are honoured to work with Blackfoot artists to create a sign that says welcome as well as serves as a tangible reminder that we offer our programming on the traditional lands of the Blackfoot people.”

  • Suzanne Lint, Executive Director of Allied Arts Council/ casa

“Lethbridge & District Exhibition is proud to be a gathering place for the Blackfoot community and all Indigenous peoples,” says Mike Warkentin, Chief Executive Officer, Lethbridge & District Exhibition. “Artist Cheyanne McGinnis’ OKI design welcomes our guests, representing the people, the place and the community we exist to serve.”

  • Mike Warkentin, CEO, Lethbridge & District Exhibition

“Blackfoot heritage has always been an important part of the culture in Southern Alberta. As a gathering hub in our community, we promote diversity and inclusion where everyone is welcome. This new Oki sign is an exciting way that compliments the use of the shopping centre as a platform to educate our guests on the rich heritage of the Blackfoot community, including historical facts about the region and the integration of the Blackfoot language in other areas of the centre.”

  • Kevin Brees, Regional Manager, Operations, Primaris

City staff, community partners, and artists are celebrating this placemaking project with a soft launch at Park Place mall on September 28 in conjunction with 2022 Reconciliation Week. It is anticipated that the fully wrapped Oki signs will be delivered to their hosts later in the fall.

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