Indians: Vital to Calgary Stampede for a Century

First Nations and Indians have been a vital component of the Calgary Stampede for its 100 years of existence

In 1912, the five Treaty 7 First Nations in southern Alberta received special permission to attend the first Calgary Stampede. About 1800 Natives traveled to Calgary and took part in the festivities. They rode and walked in the parade. They established the Indian Village. And Tom Threepersons of the Kainai Nation captured the rodeo title of World Champion Cowboy.

This year marks the centennial of the Stampede, which has grown to become the “Largest Outdoor Show in the World,” drawing more than one million visitors annually. First Nations people continue to actively participate with the Indian Village and Native programs forming one of the three main components of the Stampede. The other two legs of the stool are the rodeo, and the agricultural fair with a midway.

The Stampede’s ten-day run kicks off on Friday July 6 with a mammoth parade through downtown Calgary of floats, bands, clowns, horses and Natives in full regalia. The parade will be led by the Stampede Queen and three Princesses, one of which is the Centennial Indian Princess, Amelia Crowshoe, representing the Piikani Nation. The chiefs of the five Treaty 7 Nations are honorary parade marshals.

At the Indian Village, the tribes of Treaty 7, represented by the Nakoda (Stoney), Kainai (Blood), Siksika (Blackfoot), Piikani (Peigan) and Tsuu T’ina (Sarcee), re-enact life as it once was. They will live in 26 tipis for 10 days, dressed in traditional garb and conducting numerous daily performances on an outdoor stage.

The Village is more than a cultural display; it is also a way of life where cultural values are passed down from generation to generation. Many of the Elders have been participating since they were babies and now bring their children and grandchildren to live in the Village.

Katie Lefthand described the experience, “I’ve been to every Stampede all 10 days for the past 23 years and am so proud to be a 'Village rat.' I've got friends I’ve known since birth, everybody in the village is like family. I love dancing and sharing our culture with the world.”

Native interpreters guide visitors though the village and explain and demonstrate making pemmican and berry soup, raising tipis and much more. For example, they explain the importance of tipi designs and how they are determined by dreams and are transferred by ceremony. One of the tipi designs this year has been present for all 100 years of the Village. Contestants compete in a daily tipi-raising contest.

One of the most popular Village attractions is the Stampede Pow Wow, an enormous dance competition attracting the best Native dancers, who compete for tens of thousands of dollars in prize money. The stage is a flurry of colorful feathers, buckskin and beads as the contestants perform the Grand Entry, the Hoop Dance, All Round, men’s Prairie Chicken, ladies Jingle and traditional dances. Many evenings, the furious beat of drums echoes through the Village.

This year a new daily one-hour show was introduced, The Spirit of Dance: A Pow Wow Experience, that tells the history of the Pow Wow and the origins of First Nations dancing. The show, which includes seven dances, is enacted by students from Siksika Nation High School.

For hungry visitors, the Bannock Booth serves up a variety of delicacies, including bannock hot dogs, Indian tacos, bannock breakfast sandwiches, bannock burgers and bannock moose ears. Also known as Indian fried bread, bannock was a staple among First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

The Arts and Crafts Booth offers a wide array of Native handicrafts such as jewelry, moccasins and beadwork for viewing and purchase. The presenting artists change throughout the Stampede.

Princess Amelia, who is the ambassador for the Village, has danced all her life and feels it is a large part of First Nation culture and traditions. Her Blackfoot name is Misimmemonisakii (Long Time Otter Woman), and she is the fifth generation from her family to participate in the Stampede. “I’ve been coming here since I was a baby and always lived in the Village. Can you imagine us kids running around wild with the Calgary Stampede as our playground. I rode on horseback and on floats in the parade and worked in the Bannock Booth. I have tons of wonderful memories.”

“My grandparents taught me that our Native culture is different, but it’s not wrong,” she said. “It’s always been a focus in our family to reach out and build cultural awareness. And that’s what I’m doing as the Indian Princess.”