Bison in Grasslands National Park.

Braiding Indigenous and Western knowledge

Newly opened in July 2023, the focus of the kihci-okâwîmâw askiy Knowledge Centre is on taking care of Mother Earth.


On July 5, a pipe ceremony honoured the founding of the kihciokâwîmâw askiy (Great Mother Earth in Plains Cree) Knowledge Centre on the University of Saskatchewan (USask) campus.

Considering the work involved in reimagining the former Indigenous Land Management Institute into a new entity, it came together quickly.

It was early 2022 when College of Agriculture and Bioresources (AgBio) Dean Angela Bedard-Haughn started the process, soon joined by director Candice Pete-Cardoso, academic director Dr. Melissa Arcand (PhD), and a steering committee.

The group dove in, led by the founding principle that “the land is our first teacher and of central importance to Indigenous peoples.” Its purpose is to serve as a resource for Indigenous communities and organizations seeking information, training, and research partnerships.

“We have a robust steering committee, comprised of Indigenous peoples from various nations and Indigenous-led organizations,” said Pete-Cardoso.

The steering committee members represent the areas of Treaty 4, Treaty 6, Treaty 10, Métis Local 10, and the regions of Syilx Okanagan and bigger Liǧʷiłdax̌ʷ Nation.

“The steering committee members also represents six different Indigenous language groups,” said Pete-Cardoso, who serves as co-chair with Arcand.

“The steering committee members are a strong collective voice; they emanate the meaning of leadership for collective impact. It was those voices that lead the development of what an Indigenous land centre should and could look like.”

One of those voices is Robin McLeod from the Prince Albert Grand Council, a consultant who works with lands and resources files for the council.

“We have an MOU with USask,” said McLeod. “We’re trying to make the best use of it. We are working on projects involving USask. This is something we identify as being part of the MOU. 

A specialist in business plan development, McLeod said his input was focused more on his land experiences.

“I helped with my knowledge about the land. I was raised on the land,” said McLeod.

“Others on the steering committee have also contributed Indigenous knowledge. I wanted to make sure that Indigenous knowledge was part of the moulding of the centre. We want to be part of it as Indigenous people.”

One of McLeod’s direct impacts came from his interest in seeing Indigenous knowledge intertwined with Western knowledge.

“We call that ‘braiding knowledge,’” which is symbolized by a braid of sweetgrass. “My goal was to make sure that happens. What we want to see is the acknowledgment of Indigenous knowledge in science.”

He hopes the centre can one day have its own building and provide services such as mapping of Indigenous lands.

“I think there needs to be more collaboration like this,” he added. “I think that’s a great thing. We do have lots to contribute, and I think this is one of the ways to do it.”

Steering committee members and guests at the launch ceremony for the kihci-okâwîmâ askiy Knowledge Centre held on July 5, 2023. (Photo: Submitted)

Creating the vision

True to the vision, the centre’s name, its land acknowledgment statement, and its driving principles are expressed in the Plains Cree language.

While considering these important elements, the committee thought about the many references to reconciliation and Indigenization in USask foundational documents.

That led to an examination of the word “institute,” which the steering committee felt represented negative connotations related to the Indian residential school experience. The decision was taken to change the name.

“The name that we chose, kihci-okâwîmâw askiy, came from the steering committee, came from Elder Joseph Naytowhow (with the College of Law),” said Pete-Cardoso.

The centre also received a prayer from language keeper Leo Yahyahkeekoot which will serve as the land acknowledgement for the centre.

The statement focuses on honouring Mother Earth, Pete-Cardoso said.

It is expressed in Plains Cree, one of the languages in Treaty 6 territory upon which the university exists. Briefly translated to English, it says: Great Mother Earth, you guide us, we are obligated to live in a good way, we must take care of her, and we must respect her.

“The other important aspect to this work was changing the narrative,” said Pete-Cardoso.

“My career over the past 24 years has focused on working with

Indigenous communities. One of the concerns they have raised is being classified as stakeholders. We need to work on changing that narrative: Indigenous peoples are individual and collective rights holders.”

To that end, “Nothing about us without us” was another important theme that the steering committee adopted for guidance, she added.

Ultimately, the development plan that emerged melded respect and language with the practical aspects of operating such a centre.

“When I started last year, I asked myself, what should this look like?” said Pete-Cardoso. “How do we work with Indigenous communities in a respectful and meaningful way?

“One of the first things was connecting with Indigenous communities and organizations working in this area,” which included the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Land Technicians in Saskatchewan and the Lands Advisory Board in British Columbia, Pete-Cardoso said.

Connection Point: How it works

Fundamentally, the centre works with and for Indigenous communities to empower land governance by leveraging teaching, research and engagement at USask, said Pete-Cardoso.

The centre will work across a diversity of disciplines at the university and will support and foster the development of reciprocal relationships.

One of the initiatives is an Askiy (“land” in Plains Cree) professional development workshop series starting in the fall.

Indigenous peoples working in land management will have the opportunity to participate in workshops and training on multidisciplinary land-related issues. Presenters will include Indigenous organizations and faculty from USask, including Arcand.

Future plans will largely be driven by the steering committee and will be based on priorities voiced by Indigenous peoples. Pete-Cardoso looks forward to receiving this advice and guidance.

“We’re trying to change how things are done. It’s about Indigenous peoples being at the table and driving the outcomes of the work.”

She gives the example of a project by Dr. Tom Yates (PhD), associate dean academic with the College of AgBio, who worked with fourth-year students and the Little Pine First Nation to build meaningful relationships.

“The students took soil samples of the lands that were being leased to test and compare the results to the original soil samples gathered in the ’60s, to determine if the land was still in a healthy state,” explained Pete-Cardoso.

They also took samples from the Battle River, examined food security challenges, and provided recommendations to the community who would then decide on next steps.

The centre also plans to create an Askiy Mentorship Team and an Askiy Research Lecture Series, both intended to support and share research being conducted at USask, Pete-Cardoso said.

“The priority for the centre is about creating land-related teaching, research and engagement opportunities that are of significance to Indigenous communities.”


Agknowledge, Fall 2023

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