Students learn Big Rock's significance

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 16, 2014 11:23 am

Blair First Rider speaks to Oilfields High School students about the history <br />surrounding the Okotoks Erratic and its importance to Alberta’s indigenous people.
Blair First Rider speaks to Oilfields High School students about the history
surrounding the Okotoks Erratic and its importance to Alberta’s indigenous people.
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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A group of high school students have a new appreciation for Okotoks’ Big Rock with some help from the Blackfoot people.

With pieces of tobacco pinched tightly between their fingers, 30 Oilfields High School Grade 12 students stood beside the erratic on a windy day last week as Blair First Rider said a prayer in the Blackfoot language. First Rider also spoke about the history and significance of the nine-metre high glacial erratic for his people.

For Grade 12 student Kalene Lillico, it was a cultural experience she never encountered before.

“I didn’t even know most of the First Nations history (regarding the erratic),” she said. “It was interesting to learn all that.”

The students gathered at the enormous rock west of Okotoks on April 11. Paul Rasporich, Foothills School Division First Nations, Metis and Inuit Lead Teacher, planned the outing with the goal of preventing further vandalism to the rock. During the last decade, the erratic has been spray painted numerous times and Rasporich teamed up with First Rider to educate young people about its significance in nature and to the First Nations people to prevent further incidents.

They had no problem convincing Lillico.

“It’s a beautiful part of our community and to think these (people) would vandalize it like that is disappointing,” she said. “It’s been around for so long.”

Rasporich believes sharing the First Nations’ views and traditions relating to the Big Rock will increase student respect towards nature.

“What we don’t understand is that we belong to the land and it doesn’t belong to us,” he said. “The First Nations people have always known that. Spraying over the ancient pictographs is disrespectful. That rock has been here for thousands of years.”

Rasporich wants to ensure the education expands beyond Oilfields High School, where he teaches art, and is arranging to have First Rider speak to Grade 12 students across the region. He said graduates often spray paint their graduating year on various items and doesn’t want that happening to the erratic.

“It’s been a reoccurring thing over the past few years,” he said. “The only way we can prevent disrespect is through education.”

First Rider told students the science behind the erratic arriving in the area due to the melting of a glacier 10,000 years ago and the Blackfoot legend of how the big rock came to be at its current location 10 kilometres southwest of Okotoks.

The legend tells how a supernatural trickster called Napi gave his robe to the Big Rock on a warm day and when the temperature got colder took it back. The rock chased Napi, who requested help from various animal friends. A flock of bird friends pecked at it and broke it in half where it now lays.

First Rider told the students the site is sacred and a place of worship where Aboriginal people used to go in search of visions.

“Because of the vandalism we are looking how best to save Okotoks,” he said. “We are trying to reduce the footprint of development and trying to preserve sites such as Okotoks, which have origins and connections to the land for the Blackfoot.”

First Rider said the vandalism needs to stop.

“It’s desecration of a sacred site and a special place,” he said. “It affects our sense of place. It’s disrespectful.”

Oilfields High School student Ajay Bains said he can’t believe people vandalize the site.

“It doesn’t make any sense to vandalize a rock,” said Ajay Bains. “It’s disrespectful.”


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