“Healing from the harmful, intergenerational effects of residential schools is still very much needed – for the victims, survivors, families and loved ones, but also for the people who built, maintained and enforced the residential school system in Canada.”

- Stewart Steinhauer, Cree carver of Alberta’s official residential school monument


The name of the reconciliation garden on Alberta’s legislature grounds is Kihciy Maskikiy/Aakaakmotaani. These are Cree and Blackfoot words, respectively, that mean ‘sacred medicine/save many people.’ Indigenous Elders named this garden and guided its design.

Within the garden is a monument to honour the victims and survivors of Canada’s residential school system, titled 'Mother Earth Circling: Healing from the residential school experience.’

Residential schools in Alberta

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation offers information and education about residential schools, their ongoing effects and the experiences of the people who attended them.

The garden

Alberta reconciliation garden - colourful plants and trees with monument

Kihciy Maskikiy/Aakaakmotaani is intended to embody the spirit of reconciliation. It was created under the guidance of Indigenous Elders. The garden is centred around a linden tree that was planted as a sapling in 2021. This tree’s growth over time represents continuity, renewal and the long journey toward reconciliation.

The garden features a medicine wheel, a sacred symbol of the 4 directions and the interconnectedness of all things. The 4 quadrants of the wheel contain sweetgrass, sage, tobacco and cedar.

There is also a diamond willow tree, offering logs, stone benches for contemplation and footprints in the pathway that represent the children who did not return home from residential schools. This is a place for people to reflect, seek guidance and find solace.

Photo of a stone monument, grandfather side
Photo of a stone monument, grandmother side

Mother Earth Circling: Healing from the residential school experience

Visitors to Kihciy Maskikiy/Aakaakmotaani can see the towering stone monument to the victims and survivors of residential schools that is proudly on display. This sculpture, 'Mother Earth Circling: Healing from the residential school experience,’ was created by Saddle Lake Cree Nation artist Stewart Steinhauer. It was selected by an Indigenous advisory panel made up of First Nations, Métis and Inuit representatives from across Alberta.

Video: Interview with Stewart Steinhauer

Steinhauer created this sculpture to honour the victims and survivors of Canada’s residential school system. He began carving stone in 1973. He provided the following guide to help visitors interpret this remarkable monument:

  • The Rock Grandmother side

    Photo of the grandmother rock, side view

    "This sculpture has a Rock Grandmother side, which features a feminine figure holding a baby, and a Rock Grandfather side that includes several ancient petroglyphs and other symbols.

    On the Rock Grandmother side, the baby represents humanity, still in its infancy, being held, nurtured and sustained by our great mother, the earth. To its right is the crane, which in ancient petroglyphs and stories across Turtle Island (North America) is responsible for protecting children.”

  • Inuit and Métis symbols

    Photo of an Inuit metis symbol

    “Beneath the cradling arm of Mother Earth is the name of the Inuit national political organization, written in Inuktitut. Below this is the infinity sign, a horizontal figure eight, which is the national Métis symbol. Including these emblems is a way to recognize that the intergenerational trauma produced by the residential school system affects people from all Indigenous groups in Canada.”

  • The four rivers

    Photo of the monument, four rivers

    “Along one of the upright edges of the sculpture, in the transition zone from one side to the other, are four curving lines that represent the ‘four rivers’ petroglyph, which denotes the four great river systems of Turtle Island.”

  • The Rock Grandfather side

    Photo of the grandfather monument petroglyphs

    “On the Rock Grandfather side of the monument, ancient petroglyphs tell a story. Moose tracks on the left-hand side lead the reader into the narrative, beginning with a collection of symbols in the lower left quadrant that represent the Creator’s plan for Turtle Island.”

  • The hole

    Photo of the monument center

    “Above these symbols, a dotted line starts from the far-left side, halfway up the sculpture. It becomes more solid before it ends in the circular hole in the middle of the monument. This line represents human knowledge, while the hole represents an energy portal—the contact point between humans and the Creator, a mysterious and unknowable force.”

  • The First Peoples of Turtle Island

    Photo of the the First Peoples of Turtle Island

    “In the upper lefthand corner, a symbol shows the First Peoples of Turtle Island standing with outstretched arms, holding two bundles that represent the riches of Turtle Island. Next to this image, human refugees cross the ocean in a boat, coming to Turtle Island to seek shelter. To their right, we see the First Peoples again, arms still outstretched, but now holding only one bundle. The other bundle has been shared with the newcomers.”

  • The flowing water

    Photo of the monument flowing water

    “Below these figures, on the right side of the sculpture, is a petroglyph that depicts the breaking of water that is an important part of the childbirth process. It is an artistic representation of one of the key phrases used in Treaty negotiations: ‘as long as the waters flow.’ This symbol depicts the birth of an important new relationship. The Treaties are living agreements to share the wealth of the land “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the waters flow.”

  • The crane

    Photo of the monument, crane

    “After Treaties are signed, the crane takes responsibility for all the children born on Turtle Island. To the right of the crane is the Cree syllabic for the sound ‘ka, which is a healing sound. Childbirth is a vulnerable moment in every human’s life, so protection and healing are needed to make this transition safely.”

  • The two paths

    Photo of the monument, two paths

    “To the left of the crane is a petroglyph of two parallel roads with five posts above each line. This is a symbol of the new political order that will be established after the signing of the Treaties. The newcomers will have their path and social institutions, and the First Peoples are also meant to have their own path and institutions.”

  • The moose tracks

    Photo of the monument, moose tracks

    “At the bottom is a scene that includes inverted moose tracks near a dark force that found expression inside residential schools. The tracks represent children whose spirits were stolen by the dark force, subverting the intentions of the Treaties. Meanwhile, the crane is trying to fulfil its spiritual duty of caring for every child.”

  • The thunderbird

    Photo of the monument base, thunderbird: the eagle and prairie chicken on one side, the buffalo and horse

    “Moving to the base of the sculpture, pictographs on each side show the four forms of the thunderbird: the eagle and prairie chicken on one side, the buffalo and horse on the other. A set of bear claws runs along each edge of the base as well.

    The thunderbird works with the bear during healing. While the bear is gentle, loving, caring and nurturing, the thunderbird is shockingly powerful, jolting the mind out of illness and into well-being.”

  • The bear claws

    Photo of the monument, bear claws

    “The bear claws also represent sacred bear claw bundles that were distributed among the First Peoples in amiskwacîwâskahikan, the area known today as Edmonton. Bear claw bundles are powerful healing tools used in ceremonial settings.”

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