MÎNÎ THNÎ, Alta — Wathtech, Îyethka îam, Mînî Thnî – these are some of the Stoney expressions a clothing company started by Morley Community School students aims to share and celebrate as points of cultural pride.
The Îyethka Trading Co. is a result of five students’ efforts in a project for the school’s entrepreneurial academy that aims to represent the three bands, the language, and the culture of Stoney Nakoda First Nation through locally crafted hoodies and T-shirts.
“We wanted to create designs that are positive and affirming to the language and the community,” said teacher Renette Kurz. “So, the expressions and the designs we chose for the shirts are uniquely Stoney Nakoda.”
Mînî Thnî (mee-nee th-nee), which translates to ‘cold water’ in Stoney and is also the name of the Morley townsite, is proudly scribed onto the clothing company’s grey hoodies.
Wathtech! (wah-stitch) and Îyethka îam! (Eee-yith-ka ee-am) meaning ‘it is good’ and ‘speak Stoney,’ are printed on T-shirts of red and sage green.
“There were a lot of really rich discussions that came from this project,” said Kurz. “We discovered through our conversations with elders and language keepers that these are expressions not used in other First Nations with Nakota, Dakota or Lakota dialects.”
The Stoney language is a member of the Dakota subgroup of Siouan languages and while no official language survey has been undertaken to determine where all its speakers live, most of them are believed to be concentrated around the community of Mînî Thnî.
“We learned so much from our conversations with language keepers,” said Kurz. “The Stoney language has only been in print for about 50 years – so it’s very young in a written form.”
The five students leading the project were able to gain a new understanding and appreciation for the resiliency of their ancestors in preserving the Stoney language solely through speaking it, she added.
“I think it makes them really want to become more fluent,” said Kurz.
Aiding the students with their project also helped Kurz to become more familiar with the language and confident in the use of the Stoney words she’s learned after four years of working in the community, she explained.
“We really studied the language and this became like a whole research project,” said the teacher. “We learned that the circumflex – the little hat over the i’s in Mînî Thnî – makes the double e sound, for example. It makes this sound in every instance that it’s used in Stoney.”
The clothing company project initially began with a rebranding of the Morley Community School store to become known as Mînî Thnî Mini Mart after several discussions with elders, teachers and Stoney language instructors. The proceeds students raised from sales at the store were then used to help fund the clothing company project.
At the centrepiece of each Îyethka Trading Co. T-shirt or hoody is a logo designed by local artist and former Morley Community School language instructor Tysen Crawler, whose artwork is on display in other forms around the community – including banners along the roads that illustrate the seven sacred teachings of love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility and truth.
“The students agreed that his work around the community and in the school really speaks to them, so we asked him and paid him to design the logo for us,” Kurz said.
Crawler’s design depicts a traditional medicine wheel bordered by jagged mountains, with three arrows and a feather separating the four quarters of the wheel.
The mountains are representative of the Stoney people and the arrows represent the three bands of Chiniki, Bearspaw and Wesley/Goodstoney, Kurz explained.
The designs are printed onto the clothing by Defending Awesome, which is a custom T-shirt, stick, and signage company based in Banff.
News of the Indigenous pride-centered clothing company has been spreading fast around the community, Kurz added. At the National Indigenous Peoples Day powwow at the Morley Hockey Arena and Gymnasium June 21, students sold about $1,500 worth of hoodies and shirts in two hours.
“It was so nice for the kids to see people going out to their vehicle putting their own hoodies in there and then putting on their new ones to come back to the powwow,” said the teacher.
“Now we’re able to put all the funds we made back into the school to create student scholarships and something else that will bring pride to the community. Plus, these students can also say on their resumes that they co-founded a clothing company.”
The T-shirts and hoodies are available to order through the Îyethka Trading Co. website. Meanwhile, Kurz is looking into other events and opportunities to continue selling them for the school after the project has run its course. She is currently in talks with the Chiniki Gas Bar and the Esso gas station near the Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino to become potential retailers.