A Siksika family-owned business incorporates Blackfoot history to create a ceremonial blanket that’s turning heads
Woolen blankets with colourful designs hang on a wooden ladder at Boy Chief Trading Post on the Siksika Nation just 45 minutes east of Calgary.
The blankets were crafted with different ceremonial colours, a vintage design with three colours and one new design with five colours.
The geographic design tells the story of Blackfoot warrior Boy Chief’s heroism, compassion, healing abilities and survival.
Not only do the blankets hold history but the box they come in tells how the Blackfoot warrior saved the buffalo for Alberta.
The geographic designs mimic the Blackfoot warrior’s traditional regalia as seen in pictures from the 1900s in the Glenbow Archives.
Boy Chief Trading Post co-owner Mona Royal dedicated not only the business name to her Blackfoot ancestor but honoured his memory through the Blackfoot Peoples Mountain Blanket Collection.
“Boy Chief had a lot of history in this area and played a key role and we wanted to acknowledge him,” Royal said.
Since the blanket was launched in 2017, sales have taken off. It’s now sold in over 50 stores across Canada and the United States.
“We wanted to do something unique for our people by trying to incorporate the different colours used in our spiritual societies,” Royal said.
“We wanted people to understand the true meaning of giving a blanket […] made by Indigenous people,” said Royal.
In Indigenous culture, receiving a blanket symbolizes a variety of things based on who is gifting the blanket.
Most of the time in First Nations cultures, blanket gift giving acknowledges relationship, honour, respect and recognition of an individual’s achievements.
“I found that there was no blanket that incorporated ceremonial colours. We wanted to run with that,” Royal said.
“Yes, we have other non-Indigenous competitors that create our culture, … we as Indigenous people wanted people to know if our competitors can do it, so can we,” Royal added.
“As generations pass by, we will always be giving people as Indigenous people, we always gave for that reconciliation,” Royal said.
Royal’s husband, Darryl McDonald, the CEO and co-owner of Boy Chief Trading Co., explained the origins behind ceremonial blankets.
“Back in the old days, when other tribes came into our territories when we had our ceremonies, our way of thanking them for coming, we gifted them with a blanket. This has been going on for over a hundred years,” McDonald said.
The locally-owned First Nation business has gifted a few of their blankets to various inspiring individuals, including former NHL Player Jordan Tootoo, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Alberta Regional Chief Marlene Poitras and others.
“It’s always good to pay it forward, in our Blackfoot way,” McDonald said. “It’s always good to gift someone with a blanket.”
For McDonald, one blanket stands out: the Cheyenne pink blanket represents the Crow people in Montana and acknowledges a time when Boy Chief stood in the famous battle of Little Bighorn.
“These designs have been in my wife’s family for over two hundred years, … 99 per cent of the knowledge for the blankets came from Floyd Royal [wife’s father],” McDonald added.
The overall focus is to preserve not only Boy Chief’s legacy but the legacy of Blackfoot culture and traditions across Canada and the United States.
“We probably sold about over thousand blankets in total,”said McDonald and Royal’s daughter Mary BigBull, who manages the store.
“It’s very heartwarming when we get support from our own people.”
The business has been operating for 18 years. Planning for the blanket took three years to come to light.
“We originally started with 660 blankets because we didn’t know if it was going to do well or not […] within a year we sold all the blankets,” Bigbull said.
Boy Chief Trading Post also houses the M & R Gas Station. For more information on how to purchase blankets, find it on the website.
For Bigbull, big business is great — but most importantly is preserving the memory of her ancestors.
“When we lose elders, we lose a lot of their stories,” she said. “We wanted to bring a blanket to people that carried some of our history.”