Pendleton blankets are presented to people who make significant contributions to Indigenous initiatives at MacEwan, but gifting them is about more than simply saying thank you.

University’s Pendleton blankets a way to honour people

January 3, 2019 | Campus Life

“When the Creator first gave us here to be on Earth, we did a lot of travelling. Some of the spirit animals said, ‘Because of what you're going through, I’m going to give you a piece of my hide – a piece of me to use. Take it from my children when you go hunting. Use that and wrap it around yourself.’ Then the buffalo said, ‘To help wrap it around you, use my children.’ Then the rock spirit said, ‘To help you hold it down, use my children.’ Then the sun spirit said, ‘To help you warm your home and your family, use my children.’ That is the tipi story. It’s a story of the blanket – the traditional use began with the gift of the tipi, and eventually the buffalo hide became our blanket, our akohp. But it’s just one blanket story. There are many, each with a unique meaning.”

– Kurtis McAdam, kihêw waciston Indigenous Knowledge Keeper

As with most Cree words, explains Kurtis, a significant part of the meaning behind akohp is lost in the translation to English. When the university designed its first Pendleton blanket – it’s akohp – earlier this semester, it wasn’t about creating “A large piece of woollen or similar material used as a covering on a bed or elsewhere for warmth,” as per Oxford’s definition

“When we gift a blanket, it’s tied to a story. It’s a symbol of taking the Creator’s gifts and wrapping them around someone, wewekinew,” says Kurtis. “It ties back to stories of moose hide, buffalo hide and deer hide – each has a significant meaning.”

Modern blankets, including Pendleton blankets, are symbols of that tradition, says Kurtis. “But it’s not the material that we’re gifting a person,” says Kurtis. “akoph is mimicking what the spirits do – it’s a reminder of what the Creator had intended for us.”

The blankets given as gifts today, often called Pendleton blankets, are produced by Pendleton Woolen Mills, originally of Oregon. The company first made blankets for the U.S. Army in the early 20th century, explains John Sirois, committee coordinator, Upper Columbia United Tribes, Spokane, Washington. The blankets were given in exchanges between colonial representatives and Indigenous communities, and held value because of the warmth they provided. Over time, he said, the blankets were added to the list of goods that Indigenous communities could gift one another.

“The gifting of blankets, at its core, is an act of honouring and showing respect to people who have contributed to the common good,” explains Sirois.

IMGLR_Carolynn_Kane_PendletonThat’s the approach that MacEwan will take, gifting the blankets to people – both inside and outside the university – who make significant contributions to the university’s Indigenous initiatives.

The first MacEwan Pendleton blanket was gifted in October 2018 to Carolynn Kane (pictured here), who has been organizing the university’s Dreamcatcher Indigenous Youth Conference for more than two decades.



Read more about Indigenous initiatives at MacEwan:


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