Wildlife institute directors honoured with Blackfoot name

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Most people know the Cochrane Ecological Institute directors as Clio Smeeton and Ken Weagle but after last Saturday you can just call them, Sapio Naatu’wakik and Naatui’iini-stamiik.

Honoured at the second annual Wildlife Symposium, Smeeton, 76, and Weagle, 70, were given traditional First Nation names from Blackfoot elder Francis First Charger on March 11.

“It was totally unexpected,” Weagle said.

“It was a lovely honour to think we are worthy to be part of their community.”

Smeeton was named Sapio Naatu’waki, translated to Sacred Night Woman, and Weagle was named Naatui’iini-stamiik, translated to Sacred Buffalo Bull.

“We are honoured, amazingly honoured,” Smeeton said.

“We never thought it would happen, particularly because we’ve been doing what we’ve been doing for 50 years with no recognition.”

The institute is celebrating half a century this year of rescuing, rehabilitating, and researching wildlife. While known for saving moose, the institute also played a unique role in the reintroduction of endangered species by hosting the world’s only captive breeding colony for swift fox, which was started in 1972. The directors also played a major role in the wood bison reintroduction program – both key factors in receiving their Blackfoot names.

“Clio and Ken are very deserving. They reintroduced the fox, who is very sacred in ceremonies and they provided buffalo to the reservation. They weren’t getting anything for it, they just did it because they wanted to do it – it was very significant,” First Charger explained.

“I do not give names to just anyone but only the ones deserving and who have earned this special moment to get a Blackfoot name.”

First Charger, who was a keynote speaker at the inaugural Wildlife Symposium last year, is known for his work with youth, students and the Blood Tribe community.

“I think it’s amazing – I’m overwhelmed,” Smeeton said after the ceremony.

The naming ceremony took place on stage at the Cochrane RancheHouse with a traditional prayer and spiritual naming song.

First Charger said the tribe is brainstorming how to honour the directors with a more traditional ceremony, possibly at an upcoming summer Pow Wow or the next symposium.

“When you give them a name, you push them into the community. Traditionally ceremonies are done at some kind of gathering and we thought this was appropriate,” First Charger said.

For more information on the history of the institute or to stay up to date with current projects, go to ceinst.org.

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Cochrane Eagle