Be­yond the rodeo and the chuck­wagon races, the Cal­gary Stam­pede is one of the coun­try’s longestrun­ning pub­lic celebratio­ns of In­dige­nous cul­tures

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - Story and pho­tog­ra­phy by Jenn Fast

Be­yond the rodeo and the chuck­wagon races, the Cal­gary Stam­pede is one of the coun­try’s long­est-run­ning pub­lic celebratio­ns of In­dige­nous cul­tures

Over years ago, the Black­foot Con­fed­er­acy, the Tsuut’ina Na­tion and the Stoney-nakoda Na­tion all came to­gether in con­flu­ence at Black­foot Cross­ing. They made a treaty that was de­signed to per­me­ate and pen­e­trate gen­er­a­tions … from here to the end of time.” Black­foot film­maker Cow­boy Smithx’s voice booms from a video screen show­ing a sprawl­ing aerial view of south­ern Al­berta’s Black­foot Cross­ing at the Cal­gary Stam­pede’s Transalta Grand­stand Show. Smithx was a key part of the cre­ative team for the 2017 show, an elab­o­rate 75-minute stage per­for­mance held each night dur­ing the Stam­pede. One of his roles was to en­sure In­dige­nous acts were prop­erly rep­re­sented. Aptly ti­tled “To­gether: A Show 150 Years in the Mak­ing,” the Grand­stand Show in­cor­po­rated the most In­dige­nous acts in Stam­pede history, in­clud­ing three-time world cham­pion hoop dancer Dal­las Ar­cand and a call to cer­e­mony spo­ken en­tirely in Black­foot by Elder Peter Weasel Moc­casin be­fore Smithx’s video. “I’m here to re­mind all of you, Treaty Peo­ple of num­ber 7,” Smithx’s voice con­tin­ues, “that we are here to re­new our re­la­tion­ship with Iini­istsi, the Black­foot word for treaty. Peace, har­mony and mov­ing for­ward, cre­at­ing new bridges, new be­gin­nings and a fu­ture ... It’s time to move for­ward and it’s time to build this coun­try to­gether.” Billed as the great­est out­door show on Earth, the Cal­gary Stam­pede is renowned for its high-stakes rodeo com­pe­ti­tions, ex­cit­ing chuck­wagon races and ex­trav­a­gant stage per­for­mances en­joyed by more than a mil­lion peo­ple for 10 days each July. But be­yond its large-scale pro­duc­tions, the Stam­pede has be­come one of Canada’s largest pub­lic show­cases of First Na­tions cul­tures.


pro­moter Guy Wead­ick founded the Cal­gary Stam­pede in 1912 with the dream of host­ing a large fron­tier cel­e­bra­tion and cow­boy cham­pi­onship con­test that i ncluded the

par­tic­i­pa­tion of In­dige­nous Peo­ples. Un­der the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s In­dian Act, in­tro­duced in 1876, it was il­le­gal for In­dige­nous Peo­ples to leave their re­serves with­out a per­mit, let alone dis­play their cul­tures in front of an au­di­ence. So Wead­ick turned to politi­cians, Sen­a­tor James Alexan­der Lougheed and R.B. Ben­nett, who later be­came Canada’s 11th prime min­is­ter, to ex­ert pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment for an ex­emp­tion — and he got it. Dur­ing the very first Stam­pede, some 1,800 peo­ple from the First Na­tions of Treaty 7 led the pa­rade and com­peted in rodeo events. That tra­di­tion lives on to­day, as fam­i­lies from the Treaty 7 First Na­tions set up camp in 26 teepees at In­dian Vil­lage in Enmax Park, a 6.4-hectare green space along the El­bow River in Stam­pede Park. For cen­turies, the area was an es­sen­tial gath­er­ing place for Plains Peo­ples. Now, camp­ing at In­dian Vil­lage has be­come an an­nual pil­grim­age for many, dat­ing back to the first Stam­pede, and kept alive from one gen­er­a­tion to the next. Teepees rep­re­sent each of the five Treaty 7 First Na­tions and are open to the pub­lic, as teepee own­ers tell sto­ries and an­swer visi­tors’ ques­tions. This tra­di­tion isn’t with­out crit­i­cism, how­ever. For some, the Stam­pede’s in­clu­sion of In­dige­nous Peo­ples hasn’t al­ways felt gen­uine. In par­tic­u­lar, In­dian Vil­lage, both in name and con­cept, is a work in progress. “I think the Stam­pede is mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion, in re­gard to au­then­tic in­clu­sion of In­dige­nous voices,” says Smithx. “I still think the In­dian Vil­lage con­cept is highly prob­lem­atic. It per­pet­u­ates an­ti­quated no­tions and stereo­types we, as con­tem­po­rary In­dige­nous artists, at­tempt to dis­man­tle through our cre­ative works. But I can see an evo­lu­tion of the In­dian Vil­lage com­ing within the next few years.” While the In­dian Vil­lage name re­mains — teepee own­ers opted to keep it for its his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance — that could change in the fu­ture, and a dia­logue be­tween teepee own­ers and the Stam­pede re­mains open on all as­pects of the pav­il­ion. Else­where in the 83-hectare Stam­pede Park, In­dige­nous cul­tures and tra­di­tions are more prom­i­nent than ever. For t he first ti me i n Stam­pede history, seven chiefs from the Treaty 7 First Na­tions opened the 2017 celebratio­ns as pa­rade mar­shals. “I think that [ask­ing us to mar­shal the pa­rade] was a re­ally good first step. For the long­est time, the Stam­pede was 10 days of cow­boy-in­dian men­tal­ity,” says Xak­iji (Chief) Lee Crowchild of the Tsuut’ina Na­tion. “It’s about get­ting more First Na­tions peo­ple in­volved in other parts of the Stam­pede. Be vis­ual, be up in the Grand­stand, be in the mid­way work­ing, be the head of some of these crews, not just re­duced to In­dian Vil­lage.” In­dige­nous youth also kicked off the 2017 Stam­pede rodeo com­pe­ti­tion, show­cas­ing their horse­man­ship skills in ex­cit­ing dis­plays of speed, agility and pre­ci­sion

WE ARE HERE TO RE­NEW our re­la­tion­ship with Iini­istsi, the Black­foot word for treaty ... It’s time to move for­ward and it’s time to build this coun­try to­gether.’

as they raced around the track dur­ing the of­fi­cial grand en­try. Later in the com­pe­ti­tion, the au­di­ence was treated to a new In­dige­nous re­lay race demon­stra­tion. This high-adrenalin com­pe­ti­tion on horse­back saw four teams — Lone Wolf of the Pi­ikani Na­tion, Okan War­riors of the Sik­sika Na­tion, and Young Money and the Carl­son Team of the Black­foot Con­fed­er­acy — race around the track three times, end­ing each lap with the rid­ers leap­ing off their bare­back horses onto oth­ers in a light­ning­fast ex­change. “I’ve re­ally en­joyed the re­lay rac­ing,” says Ger­ald Sit­ting Ea­gle, an Elder from Sik­sika Na­tion and the for­mer chair of the Stam­pede’s In­dian Events com­mit­tee. “It’s a race our peo­ple used to do in the past — a mes­sen­ger would go from one camp to another and jump from one horse to another so they’d have fresh horses all the time. Now, it has be­come com­pet­i­tive. This year at the Stam­pede was a trial. I hope the crowd tells the Stam­pede to keep it!”

THE RHYTHM of a steady drum­beat res­onates through­out the park. A cho­rus of male voices rises in a col­lec­tive chant as young women in fringed shawls hop, kick and twirl in the Women’s Fancy Dance com­pe­ti­tion at the In­dian Vil­lage stage. The au­di­ence, clad in cow­boy boots and hats fresh from the rodeo, is cap­ti­vated by the tra­di­tional event. The smell of cook­ing ban­nock from a nearby booth fills the air. Close by, a cou­ple of teenage boys emerge from a teepee in feathered bus­tles and in­tri­cate bead­work de­signs, ready to par­tic­i­pate in the Prairie Chicken dance com­pe­ti­tion. Prairie chick­ens are be­lieved to have heal­ing pow­ers, and dancers im­i­tate their move­ments in feathered out­fits, us­ing bells to cap­ture heal­ing medicines. The boys are among more than 300 dancers from all over North Amer­ica who come to par­tic­i­pate in the Stam­pede’s an­nual In­dian Vil­lage Pow Wow com­pe­ti­tion. Song and drum are para­mount to these events. “Drums are sa­cred to us,” says Ger­ald Sit­ting Ea­gle. “Drum­mers treat their drums well be­cause the skin comes from an an­i­mal — from the Cre­ator’s cre­ation. When you hit it, every­one gets up and dances and it’s alive. Your heart beats harder when you hear that drum.” Back at t he Grand­stand stage, Smithx’s video ends with the Stam­pede’s slo­gan, “We’re great­est to­gether.” The stage goes dark, and the au­di­ence erupts in cheers and ap­plause. Fol­low­ing mu­si­cal per­for­mances by Adam James and Jann Ar­den, Smithx’s video was a pow­er­ful re­minder of the in­tent of Treaty 7: peace and mov­ing for­ward. “In­clu­sion and cel­e­bra­tion of First Na­tions cul­tures has never been more im­por­tant,” says Smithx later. “In the wake of Canada 150, I’ve wit­nessed a na­tional iden­tity cri­sis from coast to coast. This is an ex­cit­ing time to be alive. The new gen­er­a­tion of di­verse voices have the beau­ti­ful task of set­ting a new stan­dard for our col­lec­tive iden­tity as a na­tion. The time is now.” See more photos of the 2017 Cal­gary Stam­pede at can­­pede.

DRUM­MERS TREAT THEIR drums well be­cause the skin comes from an an­i­mal — from the Cre­ator’s cre­ation. Your heart beats harder when you hear that drum.’

Xak­iji (Chief ) Lee Crowchild ( left) of the Tsuut’ina Na­tion. Fam­ily heir­looms ( right) on dis­play at In­dian Vil­lage.

Clock­wise from top left: The mid­way; Caius Bull­bear (right) and Shel­don Scalplock dance at the In­dian Vil­lage Pow Wow; spec­ta­tors wait for a chuck­wagon race to be­gin.

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