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Iniskim Centre honours Robin Fisher at special Blackfoot naming ceremony

On Dec. 19, a special ceremony took place on campus to honour former Provost and Vice-President Academic, Robin Fisher, for his contributions and continuous support of Mount Royal’s Iniskim Centre and Aboriginal community.

“We wanted to honour Robin in a cultural way and symbolically acknowledge what he has done for the Aboriginal community at Mount Royal,” says Tori McMillan, administrator of the Aboriginal Education Program (AEP).

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The members of the Iniskim Centre say farewell to Robin Fisher. In the background is the painting by AEP student, Neepin Auger.

Fisher was instrumental in advocating for the conception, and supporting the development, of the Iniskim Centre. Iniskim, which translates to Buffalo Calling Stone, was the name given to the Centre by Blackfoot Elders Frank Weaselhead and Andrew Weaselfat.

Leonard Bastien, Blackfoot Elder and cultural advisor to the Iniskim Centre, was approached by the Centre with a traditional offering of tobacco upon the announcement of Fisher’s planned departure from Mount Royal.

Bastien was asked to come up with a Blackfoot name to bestow upon Fisher in honour of his significant contributions—to be given a Blackfoot name is a very special honor that can only be presented by an Elder from the Blackfoot community.

Envisioning the perfect name

To come up with the appropriate Blackfoot name for Fisher, Bastien retreated to the banks of the Bow River where he assembled a sweat lodge from willows and entered into deep meditation and prayer—during this sweat the name to be given to Fisher came to Bastien in a vision.

At the elaborate surprise ceremony in the Lincoln Park Room, Bastien and his wife, Audrey Weasel Traveller, and members from the Mount Royal community and Iniskim Centre came together to honour Fisher.

As the ceremony commenced, Bastien, following Blackfoot tradition, lit sweet grass in an abalone shell — known as a smudge, to set the atmosphere and invite the spirits into the room.

Bastien then proceeded to take the hand of Fisher while telling a sequence of stories from his life, each with a unique message that he relayed to Fisher to support him in his new journey in the spirit world under his new Blackfoot name — Stum eeh ksee yaan or Buffalo Bull Robe. Although the symbolism behind the name is open to interpretation, it is clear the name is very powerful and carries a great deal of respect.

“The life of the Blackfoot People is the Buffalo, and in our philosophy of belief the “Chief” is represented by the Buffalo Bull. The buffalo provides for us in every aspect of life, food, clothing, shelter and the spiritual medium to communicate and create a personal relationship with the “Creator”,” says Bastien.

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Bastien stood behind Fisher, stepping with him in tandem and accompanying him in his first steps as he was sent off from the physical world to the spirit world under his new name.

Fisher was then given a special coat made by Weasel Traveller, Bastien’s wife, as a symbol of acceptance of his new Blackfoot name.

To conclude the ceremony, Bastien stood behind Fisher, stepping with him in tandem and accompanying him in his first steps as he was sent off from the physical world to the spirit world under his new name.

Picture perfect

As a token of appreciation from the Iniskim Centre, Fisher was also presented with a painting from Education and Aboriginal Education Program (AEP) student, Neepin Auger, whose late father, Dale, was a renowned Cree artist and AEP graduate.

The painting, which depicts two teepees and two buffalos, represents the link between traditional culture and contemporary education, which Fisher advocated for and supported during his time at Mount Royal.

“The name I bestowed upon Dr. Robin Fisher is to express gratitude, acknowledge his success story, celebrate milestones of the Iniskim Centre and promote continued positive energy for the students it supports to make that difference for themselves and community …and especially for Robin to have continued success in his life,” says Bastien.

“It was my honor to give him the name 'Stum eek see yaan — Buffalo Bull Robe'."

— Brendan Greenslade, Jan. 17, 2013