University of Calgary

Students reach out to flooded First Nations community

UToday HomeJuly 2, 2013

Archaeology field school students hosted a pancake breakfast fundraiser for the Siksika Nation. From left: Shalcey Dowkes, Natasha Hoehn, Tiana Christiansen, Brooke Gerard, and Lorien Hill. All are archaeology majors. Photo by Scott CressmanArchaeology field school students hosted a pancake breakfast fundraiser for the Siksika Nation. From left: Shalcey Dowkes, Natasha Hoehn, Tiana Christiansen, Brooke Gerard, and Lorien Hill. All are archaeology majors.By Kim Lawrence

For archaeology students at the University of Calgary, the Siksika Nation – located about an hour east of the city – has provided years of exciting hands-on field work at one of Alberta’s most significant archaeological sites. This year, students had the opportunity to give back by supporting the community, which was one of the hardest hit during June’s unprecedented floods, as it began the recovery process.

Over the past week, the students raised nearly $4,000 for the Siksika Nation Flood Relief Fund by collecting donations from faculty, staff, and students in the faculties of Arts and Graduate Studies, and by flipping plenty of flapjacks Saturday in Strathmore.

The Bow River runs through the centre of Siksika Nation, which is home to about 4,000 people. High water destroyed houses situated along the riverbanks, leaving about 1,000 people displaced and likely unable to return to their damaged homes. Many residents are now camping in the vicinity, with very limited amenities, as they wait for floodwaters to recede.

Every spring since 2007, archaeology students have visited Siksika for six-week field school at the Cluny Fortified Village, the site of an unusual settlement more than 250 years old, pre-dating European arrival in Western Canada. Understandably, the students develop close connections with the Siksika people over the course of their studies.

Nearly 30 volunteers from the University of Calgary directly assisted the Siksika Nation after the First Nations community was hit hard by flooding from the Bow River. Photo by Scott CressmanNearly 30 volunteers from the University of Calgary directly assisted the Siksika Nation after the First Nations community was hit hard by flooding from the Bow River. Photo by Scott Cressman“When my students learned of the massive flooding at the Cluny site and throughout the surrounding community, they immediately felt the need to do something to help,” says Dale Walde, associate professor with the Department of Archaeology. “They started by volunteering at an emergency shelter but wanted to do more.” The students’ initiative to host a pancake breakfast fundraiser was actively supported by the Town of Strathmore, Rona, McDonald’s, and UFA, which contributed time, space and materials.

Walde and his university colleagues have always emphasized to students the importance of understanding the connection between their work and the local communities they encounter. “We often speak of the value of experiential learning in our programs,” he says. “The flood at Siksika provided that in the rawest possible form. The independent work and enthusiasm of these students in the days immediately following the event demonstrated the strength of character and depth of feeling they bring to their studies and to the communities in which they live and work.”

The archaeology students were not alone in their support of the Siksika Nation this past weekend. On Friday, buses of volunteers from across many faculties on campus – including Medicine, Social Work, Engineering, Law and Nursing – headed east with Dean of Graduate Studies Lisa Young and representatives from the Native Centre to help with recovery efforts. They cleaned, sorted donations, and unloaded trucks. On Saturday, Erin Kaipainen, director, Student Leadership Development and Engagement, returned with another group. This coming week, volunteers from the university’s health care professions will continue to assess needs and will return to provide more specialized care as required.

Student volunteers help at the Siksika Nation donation centre: Mallaina Friedle, left, and Kimberly Van Patten. Photo by Scott CressmanStudent volunteers help at the Siksika Nation donation centre: Mallaina Friedle, left, and Kimberly Van Patten. Photo by Scott CressmanDo you need flood assistance? Would you like to volunteer to help others affected by flooding in southern Alberta? Sign up under one of the flood assistance options offered to the University of Calgary community.