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'We know it's lonely': Manitou Asinîy Stone to be returned to Indigenous stewardship

Manitou Asinîy, also known as the Creator's Stone or Manitou Stone, will be reclaimed by Indigenous communities and returned to its original location.

The Stone is a 145-kilogram iron meteorite that landed billions of years ago near Iron Creek, Alta., close tor the Saskatchewan border.

A new co-stewardship was announced Friday, between the Alberta government and the Manitou Asinîy-Iniskim-Tsa Xani Center, an Indigneous-led not-for-profit organization, outlining a plan to build a new prayer centre to house the stone where Indigenous communities can better access it.

Indigenous People consider the Stone to be a sacred living being and that protected the buffalo herds of the prairies. It also served as a gathering place for prayer and healing by many Indigneous communities.

"It was prophesied that the rock, if it was moved, that we would suffer," said Elder Leonard Bastien, Manitou Asinîy-Iniskim-Tsa Xani Center chair.

The Stone was first taken in 1866, by a Methodist missionary. Basiten said smallpox followed, and soon the buffalo herds would disappear.

"Since then, a lot of things have continued to keep us down," Bastien said.

Manitou Asinîy was held in Ottawa until 1972, when it was loaned to the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM). Discussions around the reclamation of the Stone began between the RAM and 33 First Nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan after it was officially transferred in 2001.

Friday it was announced that the Stone will be moved to a new prayer centre, a geodesic dome built to be open to the sky from where Manitou Asinîy fell.

"I’m at a loss for words about how much I appreciate what has happened today," Bastien said. "This is a day of celebration, let’s celebrate this together in our heart and spirit and look forward to a better tomorrow."

Blaine Favel, former Chief of the Poundmaker Cree Nation, said the new facility will cost $7.5 million to $10 million and will be designed by Douglas Cardinal. The centre will provide a space for ceremony and give Indigenous communities greater access to the Stone.

Land negotiations and fundraising are currently underway, Favel said.

"I think of the many hundreds of millions of billions of dollars that were invested into the destruction of our culture – I think to preserve our culture deserves a few million to keep us around and to keep our elders to transmit our sacred teachings to our next generation," Favel added.

Premier Jason Kenney said it will take years before the centre is ready for the Stone to be moved in. He added the Alberta government has spent $500,000 on seed funding for the planning stage with more to follow.

"There will be significant additional funding to follow to help the centre finance the construction of both the prayer centre and eventually the interpretive centre," Kenney said. "And you better get a transcript of this so you can show my successor and my successor’s successor what I just committed to."

Until it can be moved, Manitou Asinîy will remain at the RAM on a bed of soil from the original site, which was collected in 2017. The Stone is in a pre-admission area of the RAM, so anyone can come view it, with smudging ceremonies held twice a week on the advice of Elders.

"To us in the Blackfoot worldview it’s animate, so it’s alive and we know it’s lonely, we know it wants to come home to our people," said Nicholle Weaseltraveller, an Elder's daughter who received recognition for her dedication to visiting the Stone.

"I know when they built this facility they made it more open and more accessible but you can still feel that heaviness because it is an animate object for us and the prophecy states that if it was taken we’ll see hardships so now we’re hopeful that things will change."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson Top Stories

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