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Naatowapoomahpis, new Blackfoot name for St. Francis Junior High in Lethbridge

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St. Francis Junior High School will now be known as Naatowapoomahpis, a Blackfoot name that translates to “our sacred home.”

The new name was given to the school by Blackfoot Elder Tom Little Bear at a ceremony on April 13 — the first time the school community gathered for a large assembly since the start of the pandemic, according to staff.

“I came upon the name as a result of hearing our elders through their prayers asking that they gracefully return to their campsite or their home,” Little Bear said. “Naatowapoomahpis can be translated to be meaning our home, our campsite.”

He commented that St. Francis, which he attended as a child, is a home for many staff and students. “I never expected to be sitting in front of all the students giving St. Francis its first, and I hope its only Blackfoot name,” he said.

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The ceremony included traditional Blackfoot face painting, which signifies protection — “You ask for prayers, to be safe, for no harms to be bestowed upon your family and to all the people that are sick in the hospitals.”

An honour song was also sung for the school. Little Bear said it is a holy song that goes along with a name and it will stay with the school. This was the second school LIttle Bear gave a Blackfoot name to in Lethbridge. Devon Dempsey, principal at Naatowapoomahpis, said signs will be changed and added to the school to reflect the new name “this is something that we are going to display loudly and proudly the moment we are able,” she said.

She said the school is home to 525 students who grow together, learn together and experience life together. “So for this to be their sacred home and to be named this sacred home is beyond words.”

Little Bear said sharing Blackfoot culture in schools is important to maintain the culture and identity and language is of utmost importance.

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