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AUDIO: Elder Raymond Many Bears with the correct pronunciation of iiststii'ik in Blackfoot

seeds and soil

where bison once roamed

we grow hope

when all seems still

a soft stir of new beginnings


Mary V
Bow Valley Ranche Historical Society Poet Laureate

PHOTO: Bryce Olsen | Unsplash 

iiststii’ik: Being in a state of awareness, present, open and receptive to one’s surroundings, to nature, to each other, to the external & internal environments, to new beginnings. Through the act of deep listening, profound (re)conciliation can occur.


Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus) not indigenous, introduced into US in 1700’s, biennial. Has spread so rapidly that it has often been labeled native. 

Listen Garden

The iiststii’ik (Listen) Garden is a place dedicated to healing.


Located in the heart of Fish Creek Provincial Park, iiststii’ik is a collaboration between the past and the future; the land and the people; Indigenous and newcomer communities. The garden will be one in which Native plants, Indigenous knowledge, and (re)conciliation all flourish.


This healing garden, as part of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Seeds of Change initiative, will be the first of its kind, a model for other such gardens across Canada.


As iiststii’ik is on niitsitapi land, we are guided in this effort by Blackfoot Elders. In addition to native plants, the garden will hold space for gathering, art, education, and ceremony.

“ Listen to the wind, it talks. Listen to the silence, it speaks. Listen to your heart, it knows.” 

- Native Amercan Proverb

wild bergamot

Wild bergamot or beebalm (Monarda fistulosa)   indigenous perennial, spreads by seed;
used for its antiseptic properties for poultices, mouthwash, stomach and bronchial ailments.

The iiststii’ik garden, approximately 3 acres in size, has been designed in collaboration with Blackfoot Elders with the understanding that gardens are dynamic, always growing and changing. As Elders teach: “iiststii’ik” and the stories of the place will be revealed.

The design of the garden –how we move through the space– is itself a story. Three connected circles aligned from east to west are surrounded by native trees, bushes, grasses, herbs, and traditionally used plants. 

As above, so below: our garden on earth is connected to the sun, moon, and stars. 


As the Sun rises in the East, we enter the garden from the East and are guided to the Four Directions Sculpture, which reminds us that the land comes before the people. 

Seven sunbeams lead into the Sacred Buffalo Circle, where we meet the prairie’s sacred animal, our first teacher. The Buffalo are of this place and restore this place, they fertilize the ground as they migrate. Spiritually and culturally significant, they have also fed, sheltered and clothed people here since time immemorial. In the Buffalo sculpture, the father faces North and mother faces South. The Buffalo calf, symbol of the future, faces West. This circle relates to the sun, to activity, to the masculine life force. 

“To learn to see from your one eye with the best or the strengths in the Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing… and learn to see from your other eye with the best or the strengths in the mainstream (Western) knowledges and ways of knowing… but most importantly, learn to see with both of these eyes together, for the benefit of all.”

» Philosophy of Two-Eyed Seeing shared by Mi’kmAQ Elder, Albert Marshall

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A pathway in the shape of the Métis Infinity sign connects the Buffalo circle to the second circle, iiststii’ik (Listen). The infinity sign captures the constantly flowing energy between masculine and feminine, sun and moon, active and receptive. This sign represents both unity and duality. 

The Healing Garden is the heart of  iiststii’ik. The centre of this circle holds the medicine garden. Benches at the perimeter of this circle provide rest and a chance  to listen, to contemplate, to reflect and renew. Balancing Buffalo Circle, iiststii’ik is filled with feminine, receptive, moon energy. 


The third circle is Gathering. This space is where people gather, and also where the male and female energies, where sun and moon, where action and listening, come together. This versatile space is for teaching and performance, and is where we will, for ceremonies, erect the teepee inscribed with the sun, moon, and the stars of the Seven Brothers. This is the place where stories will be shared. 

At the westernmost point of iiststii’ik is the Children’s Sculpture. In the shape of an arrow pointing west to the mountains, this sculpture will evoke and be dedicated to the strength of our children as leaders of the future. 

“We don't inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

» Chief Seattle

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Blue flax (Linum lewisii)  indigenous perennial, spreads by seed; used for making rope, and in treating eye infections, stomach disorders and swelling.  

To leave the garden, we circle back to the entrance in the east. The sense of circle and return is significant. We pass back through iiststii’ik to reflect on what may have been given and received. This may be a story an Elder shared, the shade of a plant, the sound of the wind, or a picture in the clouds. It may be a feeling inspired by a performance or piece of art in the garden. 


This history of the iiststii’ik Garden is, likewise, a story that will be told. This land was once a parking lot. The soil itself has been degraded, the place has been desecrated. Our work will begin with a sweat, a traditional Blackfoot ceremony to spiritually cleanse and bless the land. In consultation with horticultural experts, our work will continue with soil rehabilitation. 


We must heal the very earth of the garden as we begin to plant and build. When Indigenous and Western, when old and new, when diverse people come together for common cause, it is possible to revitalize the land. 


We are taught that the land and the people are one. Heal the land, heal the people. We are all committed to walking with one another in a good way. This is the story that iiststii’ik will tell. 

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night.
It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time.
It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the Sunset.” 

» Isapo-muxika (Crowfoot) Siksika Chief, warrior, peacemaker

iiststii'ik MAP Feb17_2022-1500.jpg

We work under the loving watch of the Seven Brothers, whose teachings may ring in the wise words of Peter Weasel Moccasin:

“Enjoy the land and your life” 

image: casey horner | unsplash

The Unfolding

If you look up into the night sky, you will see a cluster of hot, blue stars. In traditional niitsitape territory, they are called the Seven Brothers.

When these Seven Brothers look down from the sky onto what is now known as Fish Creek, onto what will become the iiststii’ik garden, this is what they remember:

They remember the tall grasses and fescues, the sweetgrass, the wild mint, nettles, willow, berries. They remember the hawks and burrowing owls. They remember the wolves and bears and buffalo. And they remember the first peoples traveling by foot over the land, learning the land, belonging to the land.

The Seven Brothers, looking down now, see a landscape that has changed much, and people who are new to the land. So many people are now not connected to the land.

The Seven Brothers once lived on this land. They gave their lives to become stars, to become reminders to us who still live on earth. They are reminding us of many things, including humility, love, and forgiveness. To listen.

iiststii’ik means listen.

The land is always speaking to us. The first peoples of this land have always listened, and know the ways of the land, and feel the connection to the land and to the sacred web of all life. So many of us want to learn how to be connected to the land, we want to restore that connection with the land, with each other, and within ourselves.

iiststii’ik is a place that holds space for being in connection, for restoring connection. iiststii’ik is a place where we can listen to the words of Indigenous Elders, where we can experience art, music, gathering, and healing. Where we can be with the traditional plants and medicines of this place. Where first peoples and newcomers alike can share a breath of time.

As a project, iiststii’ik began when the land called out, and when Blackfoot Elders Miiniipoka Peter Weasel Moccasin, Kaiyiitsapaomahka Raymond ManyBears and Aakaohksi’kitstakiyaakii Greta ManyBears stepped in to shape and guide the process. 

Morag Northey, visionary composer, heard the land speak to her while walking through the grasses at Fish Creek Provincial Park. Her request to re-sanctify the iiststii’ik land resonated with land steward Larry Wasyliw and with Her Honour Lois E. Mitchell and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Seeds of Change Initiative. Landscape Designer Nicole Tritter and writer Julie Trimingham were then brought in to listen to the Elders’ stories and translate part of this oral tradition into the garden and written word. 

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iiststii’ik vision statement


liststii’ik listen garden is a contemplative space dedicated to a profound reconnection with the land to promote the reflection necessary for the ongoing process of (re) conciliation.

iiststii’ik mission statement


By providing a special place where visitors will learn how the first peoples have shared their home with unselfish hearts, we each can learn from Indigenous teaching to open our hearts and minds to be in good relationship with this place and with one another. Through the engagement of the senses encouraged by the native plant and animal life present in the garden, along with story, art, music, and ceremony all our children, who are pure of heart, can learn from the land and from the first peoples of this land, and lead us into the future in a good way.

image: Leolintang | istockphoto


“The Elders of our past, our Great, Great, Great GrandFathers would be honoured to see the new generation be given voice. Allow the Great, Great, Great Grandchildren to say ‘We are Listening, we are revitalizing the past, we are moving through the injustices and are moving forward together.” 


moving on air

Raymond Manybears

Niitsitapi Traditional Spiritual Elder for the Sacred Societies, Weasel Tribe

Raymond is a much respected Elder of the Kainai Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy in Southern Alberta. He is a knowledge-carrier of his people’s history, land, cultures, and dances. He is a grandfather of a centuries-old sacred Sundance, the sole survivor of its kind. Raymond is teacher in the most traditional sense and educates his people according to protocol and the way he had been taught from his grandfather Mokakin, a very wise medicine man. Mokakin also taught Raymond how to pick and use native plants; this ancestral knowledge formed the base for Raymond’s other horticultural studies. Raymond holds a repertoire of both new and old sacred songs used in ceremony. He knows the dances of the old ways and is very much a storyteller of Blackfoot knowledge, legends and mythology. He is much sought after as a cultural consultant. He has worked with a number of different artists and filmmakers, helping them to represent the history and culture of this land in a good way, and helping to build bridges between Indigenous, settler,
and immigrant communities.

The Elders of our past, our Great, Great, Great GrandFathers would be honoured to see the new generation be given voice. Allow the Great, Great, Great Grandchildren to say ‘We are Listening, we are revitalizing the past, we are moving through the injustices and are moving forward together.” 

» Isapo-muxika (Crowfoot) Siksika Chief, warrior, peacemaker

Many offering women

Greta Manybears

Niitsitapi Elder, Knowledge Keeper, Skilled Craftsperson of Traditional Musical Instruments and Beadwork

Greta is a well known, respected artist and member of the Blood Reserve, Kainai Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy, and is partner to Raymond Many Bears. Her parents are the late Dan and Ada Weasel Moccasin, who passed on to Greta traditional cultural knowledge about many things, including how to cultivate, harvest, and use native plants. From her father she learned how to make raw hide for drums; from her mother she learned beading. Greta is now an internationally recognized artisan whose beadwork has been displayed internationally. She also makes rattles, drums, moccasins, skirts, smudge boxes, and many other traditional crafts. She sang with Old Agency Jr; was a fancy shawl dancer; has transcribed Blackfoot stories; and taught the making of white buckskin from a deer hide; her culture lives in her in ways too many to name. She generously shares her knowledge, skills, and presence with the larger community as well as with her three sons, two daughters, six grandsons and three granddaughters. 


berry child

Peter Weasel Moccasin

Niitsitapi Traditional Spiritual Elder for the Sacred Societies, Weasel Tribe

Peter is a much respected Elder of the Kainai Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy. He was taught in the oral tradition by “the old men and old ladies of the past.” Peter is a grandfather of the Sacred Societies.
He is always learning and sharing the knowledge of his people, finding a balance between the old and the new. He has said that becoming an Elder is “a lifetime of learning, an endless journey.”

soaring eagle

Larry Wasyliw

iiststii'ik CEO, President of the Bow Valley Ranche Historical Society

Larry has overseen the restoration and stewardship of the Bow Valley Ranche for a quarter of a century. He was born in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, and is descended from immigrants of the Western Ukraine.

His commitment to land and history, coupled with decades of business and entrepreneurial experience, have seen him named the City of Calgary Citizen of the Year (1999), given the 2011 Western Legacy award, and honored in 2013 with The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Metal.


He has long felt a spiritual connection to the plot of land dedicated to the iiststii’ik Garden, and is humbled to lead this healing work.

Collaborating with the iiststii'ik team:

The Honourable Lois E. Mitchell, CM AOE 

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society 

Alberta Environment and Parks

The Friends of Fish Creek
Provincial Park Society

The Bow Valley Ranche Historical Society

Bow Valley Ranche Restaurant Inc.

Bow Valley Ranche Holdings Ltd.

JVR Landscape

Tilt Creative

The regional business community, sound and visual artists

Bryce Olsen | Unsplash  


Morag Northey


Joni Millar / Tilt Creative 


John van Roessel


Media Contact


Larry Wasyliw

Iiststii’ik CEO, President of the Bow Valley Ranche Historical Society

Mobile 403, 613.9378

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