Edmonton’s Whitemud Park will soon be home to kihciy askiy, the first urban Indigenous cultural site in Canada.
After a ground blessing ceremony on Sept. 22, construction is set to begin next week, the city said Nov. 5.
kihciy askiy, which means “sacred earth” in Cree, will provide a natural setting for Indigenous peoples and communities in the capital region to host spiritual ceremonies, sweat lodges, cultural camps and talking circles; grow medicinal herbs, and facilitate intergenerational learning.
“This is a long-awaited project that the Indigenous community and elders and Indigenous leaders had envisioned some time ago,” said project manager Lewis Cardinal.
“A place where Indigenous people can come and pray and do their basic ceremonies. Right now we have to leave the city in order to do our basic prayers.
“While it serves the Indigenous community, it’s open to the non-Indigenous people and Edmontonians to participate and learn in the spirt of reconciliation,” Cardinal said.
The City of Edmonton’s website says “construction is set to begin in late 2021, and will take approximately 18 to 24 months to be complete and in service.”
However, the project team is monitoring how the budget is affected by construction and material cost increases.
On Nov. 5, the city said the project’s budget is $4.5 million. The Indigenous Knowledge and Wisdom Centre will run the site and the cost of servicing the site will be paid for by the centre.
Elder Howard Mustus estimates there are about 70,000 Indigenous people in Edmonton.
“There’s a lot of apprehension out there, a lot of misconceptions and we want to lay that to rest. The place here is going to be mainly for spiritual enhancement.
“We want to enhance the process, a dialogue of some nature, that will strengthen our relationship and a better understanding about who we are and how we can amend some injustices that was done over the past,” Mustus said.
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Delnor Construction was selected as the construction manager for the project.
The proposed kihciy askiy cultural site will feature:
- Circular area for four sweat lodges and a permanent ceremonial stone heating device with a water source;
- Circular area for tipis with permanent feast fire pit for ceremonies and small group workshops;
- Large tent gathering area for ceremonial feasts and cultural teachings;
- kihciy askiy pavilion with washrooms, locker rooms, gathering room and storage for ceremonial items;
- Fifty gravel parking stalls;
- Two gravel bus parking stalls;
- Six-metre wide gravel road with turnaround for emergency response vehicles;
- Permanent ceremonial stone heating device with water source and regrading/seeding of the grassed ceremonial area.
Eventually construction will also include a storage building with a built-in amphitheatre as well as additional landscaping and additional walking paths.
In 2020, the city began working with the Indigenous Knowledge and Wisdom Centre on the project. The kihciy askiy Counsel of Elders also helped create governance and operation models and engaged with community partners.
“We brought together 120 elders to give us guidance and direction based on a couple questions: could we have ceremonies in the city and what would those ceremonies be?” Cardinal explained. “From that, the location was important.”
kihciy askiy will be about nine acres in size and accessible by public transit.
Cardinal hopes it sets a precedent for other cities to set aside land for their Indigenous communities within the city.