Indigenous name gifted to new digital learning environment

June 21, 2021

paskwâwi-mostos mêskanâs, the name of MacEwan's new digital learning environment, is intended to provide a more inclusive learning experience for students, not unlike the kihêw waciston Indigenous Centre (above).

A specially chosen name has been granted to MacEwan University's new digital learning environment. By Spring 2022, students will be introduced to paskwâwi-mostos mêskanâs, which in Cree means "plains Cree buffalo trails."

"The human experience is central to a university education – it isn't only about content, it's about intent," says Dr. Annette Trimbee, president and vice-chancellor. "Adopting this new name is another step forward in our commitment to creating change and ensuring a more inclusive, human experience for all of our students." 

Learn how to pronounce paskwâwi-mostos mêskanâs

The idea for adopting an Indigenous name came early in the process of planning the transition from Blackboard to the Moodle learning management system. A discussion that involved Information Technology, faculty members and MacEwan's library staff about an Indigenous name for the new system soon expanded to include the team in the kihêw waciston Indigenous Centre.

The processing of Indigenous naming wasn't a new experience for Terri Suntjens, director of Indigenous Initiatives, who co-chaired a women-led naming committee tasked with proposing Indigenous names for Edmonton’s 12 municipal voting districts.

"Often times in society we don't see ourselves or we've seen ourselves from a very deficit-based place," Suntjens says. "Others have only seen us from our colonial history or traumas, and not from our language, our culture and our songs, and all of those other beautiful things that come from who we are. This naming is so important because it's one other piece of being visible for Indigenous students and professors who come to MacEwan."

Suntjens, librarian Lindsey Whitson and Dean of Library Karen Keiller wanted to ensure also that because the new digital learning environment is intended to serve students, a student be involved in the naming process. That's how Cheyenne Greyeyes, president of the MacEwan Indigenous Students Club, became part of the process.

"When I explained to other students about the process for the new name, the reaction I got was overall excitement," says Greyeyes. "They're looking forward to it and are excited to see something that represents us in this way."

Though COVID-19 restrictions prevented the students from gathering, MacEwan's Knowledge Keeper Roxanne Tootoosis went into ceremony on behalf of MacEwan to request for the name of the new system. She wanted to see Indigenous students, staff and faculty reflected in this process.

"As Indigenous peoples of these lands, we are spiritual people," says Tootoosis. "We enter into ceremony to spiritually connect with our ancestors who protect, bless and give us guidance. We honour creation by giving thanks and acknowledging the winged beings, four-legged, swimmers, plants, medicines, roots, berries and tiniest insects who all contribute so that we can all successfully coexist in peace and harmony with each other."

The name paskwâwi-mostos mêskanâs (plains Cree buffalo trails) was granted in ceremony.

"When the plains buffalo used to roam freely on these lands, they provided abundantly like food, shelter, clothing, tools for our livelihood," says Tootoosis. "Within buffalo herds, a bull leads the herd while another bull follows in the back for protection. Prairie buffalo always travel north to south, east to west. They leave trails for guidance for others.

"Like the buffalo, our pursuit for knowledge can lead us down many paths, each path rich with information," she continues. "This new system will act as our lead and protection like the buffalo, guiding us through new pathways of knowledge."

ᐸᐢᑳᐧᐃᐧ-ᒧᐢᑐᐢ ᒣᐢᑲᓈᐢ (paskwâwi-mostos mêskanâs)

ᐸᐢᑳᐧᐃᐧ-ᒧᐢᑐᐢ [paskwâwi-mostos] - buffalo, bison

ᒣᐢᑲᓈᐢ [mêskanâs] - trail, path, little road

When the buffalo roamed freely on these plains lands, they provided abundantly to the First Nations peoples, including food and shelter. Today, First Nations refer to education as the “new buffalo” for survival. This name was gifted in a buffalo lodge ceremony. Within buffalo herds, a bull leads the herd while another bull follows in the back for protection. Prairie buffalo always travel north to south or east to west. They leave trails for guidance. Like the buffalo, our pursuit for knowledge can lead us down many paths, each path rich with information. This new system will act as our lead and protection buffalo, guiding us through new paths of knowledge.

Using the shortened name "mêskanâs"

The name paskwâwi-mostos mêskanâs was given with a particular eye in ensuring a respectful, acceptable shortened version – "mêskanâs". mêskanâs will be used in a way that bridges the cultural meaning with integration into the new digital learning environment and will be accessible online as

kihêw waciston’s librarian, Lindsey Whitson, says the new name represents steps forward in welcoming and caring for students. It helps make the educational experience more inclusive for Indigenous students, and launches teaching and learning at MacEwan with clear recognition of diversity. "It starts with learning a few words connected to a different worldview than your own," she says. "This creates momentum to learn more, to understand more, to reimagine our ways of being together.”

The giving of an Indigenous name to the digital learning environment, says Keiller, recognizes how important the online space we work and study in has become, just as it is important to acknowledge the land on which we learn. "There are many ways of knowing," she says. "We need to work towards creating a culturally inclusive digital learning environment – having an Indigenous name will help remind us of that goal."

Though the implementation of the mêskanâs learning environment is ongoing (and is projected to be launched by Spring 2022), MacEwan looks forward to offering a more inclusive learning environment for students and helping them embrace their educational journey.

"Education is ongoing and lifelong, and it can be difficult sometimes," says Greyeyes. "These learning systems keep us going in the right way, and also remind us that we can always be learning and getting more from our education."



How an open letter led to Indigenous names for Edmonton’s new municipal wards

“We hope that learning the new Indigenous ward names, their pronunciations and their meaning will start conversations.”

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