Neighbourly debates


Above: Patricia Wood

Jason Guriel, a second-year York graduate student in English, sent the following article to YFile.

When most of Southern Alberta was transferred from Native to Canadian occupation by treaty in 1877, one reserve, the T’suu T’ina Nation, was established a few kilometers away from a white settlement. As the city of Calgary has expanded, however, it has gradually wrapped itself around the eastern side of this relatively rural reserve.

But how have the landscapes of these two communities shaped their respective identities? And is there any space in Calgary for these Aboriginals? These are only a few of the difficult questions currently being tackled by Patricia Wood, a professor in York’s Department of Geography.

The physical proximity of the T’suu T’ina Nation and Calgary has resulted in a complex and, at times, problematic relationship between the two communities. For example, although Calgary’s light penetrates the tranquil darkness of the T’suu T’ina Nation at night, the aboriginal community’s billboards have often been criticized for blocking the city’s much-coveted view of the Rockies. And for years, controversy has raged over a proposed highway that would run through the reserve’s land – a highway that could help ease Calgary’s traffic problem.

“But Calgarians,” notes Wood, “know very little about the T’suu T’ina. The reserve only registers on Calgary when a geographical issue -such as view or traffic – affects the city itself.”

Right: T’suu T’ina Nation pow-wow

Working with aboriginal scholars, city counsellors, public officials and many others, Wood has helped to chart the extraordinarily complex interaction between these two very different communities, including how they’ve grown up together, and how the T’suu T’ina presence has infiltrated the urban space of Calgary in a surprisingly positive way….

“The Calgary Stampede,” points out Wood, “which one traditionally associates with the image of the cowboy, actually accommodates an aboriginal presence – the ‘Indian Village’ – a very popular space in the Stampede. This discredits the notion that there is some insurmountable cultural chasm between the two communities.”

And according to Wood, the Stampede also proves that, given more spaces over which to exercise joint jurisdiction, the two communities could further strengthen their relationship.

Intensely interdisciplinary, Wood’s work involves the study of geography, history, anthropology, political science, sociology and literature. Her research was also recently referenced by the T’sui T’ina Nation during a presentation given to the United Nations High Commission.