The first-ever urban Indigenous Ceremonial Grounds in Canada are in the process of being built in Edmonton’s river valley, Global News reports. Construction crews broke ground south of Fox Drive and Whitemud Drive on Treaty 6 territory to begin building kihciy askiy (pronounced “key-chee-ask-ee”).
The location was selected in part for its historical and cultural significance. According to Howard Mustus, chair of the kihciy askiy elder council, it’s where Indigenous people would take part in commerce with traders and gather to socialize. The City of Edmonton also pointed out that the site was used to forage for medicinal plants and ochre, which was used in spiritual and traditional ceremonies.
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The facility will offer a natural setting where Edmonton’s Indigenous community will be able to host ceremonies, sweat lodges, cultural camps and talking circles. Kihciy askiy will also be a space to grow medicinal herbs and conduct intergenerational learning in the outdoors.
To be here today, after all these years, is really to be stepping into a dream that I know is going to be beneficial for many Indigenous families and youth and elders
“My heart is really full,” Lewis Cardinal – the Indigenous Knowledge and Wisdom Centre (IKWC) project manager for kihciy askiy – told the outlet.
The grounds will be a place for ceremonial gatherings
Cardinal has been working on bringing the facility to life for 16 years now. In partnership with the IKWC, the City of Edmonton created kihciy askiy as a solemn site for Indigenous ceremonial gatherings.
“We don’t want this to be a tourist attraction and the elders have made that very clear,” Cardinal added.
As a result, there won’t be lively events like powwows at kihciy askiy. There will also be a capacity of 100 people at a time.
“This is a place to be solemn, to seek solace and to make that connection with the land and the creator,” Cardinal said. “And so we want to ensure that we follow that.”
The $6.5-million facility will have plenty to offer, including sweat lodges, permanent stone heating devices with a water source, an amphitheatre and a space for tipis with a permanent fire pit for ceremonies and workshops. On site, there will be a pavilion building with washrooms, locker rooms, a gathering room and storage for ceremonial items.
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It’s been around 140 years since ceremonies like those intended for kihciy askiy have taken place in the river valley.
“We’re the only group of people who have to leave the city in order to pray,” Cardinal explained. “We don’t have a mosque, a temple or a cathedral that we can pray in. But now this is our cathedral, our mosque and our temple. It’s a place where anyone can come to learn more about and being connected to Indigenous traditions.”
“To be here today, after all these years, is really to be stepping into a dream that I know is going to be beneficial for many Indigenous families and youth and elders, but also Edmontonians, because we also will have our door open for non-Indigenous people from Edmonton to be able to come in to learn,” Cardinal continued.
Other cities have been learning from Edmonton, as Cardinal has received calls from officials in Toronto, Saskatoon, Calgary and Winnipeg looking to create something similar in their own urban centres.
Construction on the site began in late 2021, and it will continue into next spring.
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