Indian Village expansion promotes cultural understanding and preservation
First Nations facility settles into new year-round home at Enmax Park
It all started in 1912 with an invitation from Guy Weadick to the First Nations peoples of Calgary area to camp at the Stampede, share their culture, and demonstrate their heritage in a time when traditional indigenous practices had been largely outlawed across Canada.
Now, more than 100 years later, the Calgary Stampede Foundation and Suncor Energy Foundation have made a historic move in acknowledging the bond that has grown between Treaty 7 First Nations and the Stampede since that day.
That’s the message Stampede, Suncor, and Treaty 7 officials were boasting at a blessing ceremony of the new Indian Village grounds in ENMAX Park on July 6.
“This gift supports our vision for Stampede Park, and the future of our city,” said Steve Allan, chair of the Calgary Stampede Foundation, to kick off the tour of the Village.
Just a short decade ago, ENMAX Park, a property of Suncor Energy, was nothing more than an ugly industrial site. It was a place Allan called “an embarrassment to all of us” in an address to the media before the blessing ceremony.
“As you can see,” he continued, “it has completely transformed. It is a green oasis in the heart of downtown Calgary, and probably is now the nicest part of the pathway system — a go-to destination for special occasions, celebrations, and everyday adventures.”
Although the Indian Village has been around since the inception of the Stampede, it has occupied many different locations throughout the grounds over the years. Though plans have been in the works since 2004 to expand the Village, it wasn’t until the 2013 Southern Alberta floods severely damaged its most recent location near the south entrance to the Stampede that the decision was finally made to relocate.
The space the Indian Village now occupies in ENMAX Park, which is more than twice the size of its old stomping grounds, was donated to the Calgary Stampede Foundation by Suncor in an effort to not only cement the relationship between modern Cowboys and Indians, but further include Calgary’s energy community in that relationship.
“It is our hope that this type of gathering place can be a means to accelerate our understanding and journey of mutual reconciliation,” said Arlene Strom, vice president of sustainability and communications for Suncor.
Along with their gift of additional land on which the Treaty 7 tribes can display their teepees, perform traditional ceremonies and host dances and live music events during the Stampede, Suncor also provided partial funding to help build the Sweetgrass Lodge, a new facility that will provide a year-round location for First Nations educational programming. The name was chosen by Darren Weasel Child of the Siksika nation, and serves as a reminder of all nations — and all peoples’ — interwoven nature.
The lodge will act as a place for curious folks to come and engage with indigenous culture, history, stories, and traditional knowledge, a feature that will be especially important for indigenous youth, said Cindy Provost, vice-chair of the Calgary Stampede’s Indian events committee.
“To bring this area to life is very significant for our families, particularly our young people, and those generations who are not yet born,” said Provost. “The privilege to have a sacred place to come to and learn about who you are, learn about your identity, learn about your culture, interact with our knowledge and our elders, and work with each other so that we can become good and kind and compassionate ambassadors beyond this sacred place... the opening of this site is very positive for promoting that.”
Elder Noran Calf Robe of Siksika, who, with elder Alison Healy of Kainai, blessed the new Village with a sweet grass burning ritual, echoes this belief.
“There’s so much to learn just by being here, and for somebody who wants to learn, just come and ask the elders. You know what I mean? Come ask the people who can tell you,” said Calf Robe.
Because of the sacred nature of many indigenous teachings, Calf Robe said it can be difficult to preserve traditional knowledge without the passion of the youth. Hopefully, he said, giving the Indian Village a permanent residence will open the door to indigenous children, and other eager learners, to come and explore their history.
“This place is awesome, especially the fact that it’s all year. Like I can take you to school, and I can teach you, but there’s always something new to learn. There’s even some things that I don’t know about,” he said. “I don’t want to just [learn] it because. You have to commit to it.”
Now that interpreters and elders will be making themselves available more frequently throughout the year in the Sweetgrass Lodge, Stampede-goers will have a chance to partake in some of that spiritual knowledge even after the 10-day festival is over.
In the meantime, the Treaty 7 tribes will be putting on a non-stop lineup of powwows, traditional dancing, drum circles, and ceremonies at the outdoor stage in the Indian Village in a bid to entice and inspire. Fresh bannock delicacies and traditional wares and crafts will also be available for purchase.
This years Calgary Stampede runs July 8 to 17.
Photos by Michaela Ritchie.
Published on July 10, 2016.
Elders Noran Calf Robe (Siksika) and Alison Healy (Kainai) happily answer questions on July 6 about the Indian Village’s new location, extrapolating on its function as both a source of entertainment for Stampede-goers, and a continued place of learning for indigenous peoples and other interested parties alike. Photo by Michaela Ritchie
The buffalo is a prominent feature on many of the teepees in the Indian Village, a trend that Noran Calf Robe says is not uncommon of First Nations design. According to Calf Robe, buffalos “are our way of life. That’s our life, 'cause if you didn’t have the buffalo, you’d have nothing. It’s the food, the clothing, the shelter, you know?” Photo by Michaela Ritchie
Kelly Good Eagle has been attending the Stampede with family, friends, and teepee owners since he was a child, and has always greatly enjoyed the festivities and the chance to showcase his Siksika (Blackfoot) heritage. Good Eagle stands proud by teepees that are a part of the new Indian Village at the Stampede grounds on July 6. Photo by Michaela Ritchie
Visitors to the Stampede’s new Indian Village will have the opportunity to visit 26 uniquely ornate teepees and speak with each teepee’s respective owners in an interactive exhibit. Teepee owners will be displaying a wide variety of traditional artifacts, and are eager to explain their significance. Kainai elder Alison Healy displays some ornaments from her own traditional regalia: an otter skin that she wears over her shoulders, an eagle feather fan, a beaded purse and a braid of sweet grass, the same sort that was burned earlier on July 6 as a part of the blessing ceremony for the Village’s new location along the banks of the Elbow River. Photo by Michaela Ritchie
From left to right, elders Alison Healy, Noran Calf Robe, and Kelly Good Eagle stand at the gate of the expanded Indian Village in ENMAX Park with Arlene Strom, the Vice President of sustainability and communications with Suncor Energy, on July 6. The Indian Village was able to expand its territory this year into ENMAX Park, a space gifted by the Suncor Energy Foundation to the Calgary Stampede Foundation for this express purpose. The land rests along the bank of the Elbow River, which the Siksika people refer to as “Moh-kíns-tsis” — the Blackfoot phrase for “elbow.” The river and land surrounding it are both considered sacred ground by the First Nations of Treaty 7. Photo by Michaela Ritchie
Twenty-six teepees from all five of Calgary’s local Treaty 7 indigenous tribes (Siksika/Blackfoot, Kainai/Blood, Piikani/Peigan, Stoney Nakoda, and Tsuu T’ina/Sarcee) will be showcased at the Indian Village this year during Stampede. Many will remain after the 10-day event ends as a part of the year-round cultural and spiritual education program now being offered at ENMAX Park in the Sweetgrass Lodge, in a bid to help preserve indigenous customs and traditional knowledge. Photo by Michaela Ritchie
The Sweetgrass Lodge, which was constructed with funds donated by both the Suncor Energy Foundation and the Calgary Stampede Foundation, will serve as a year-round reminder to Calgarians of the unique bond shared between First Nations, the Stampede, and our city's energy sector. The facilities will provide a location for interpreters, elders, and cultural experts to assist the curious in their pursuit to further their knowledge of indigenous affairs and heritage. It will also be home to the new Stampede School, which according to Steve Allan, the chair of the Calgary Stampede Foundation, "will provide students from grade 2 to 12 with engaging opportunities to learn first hand about the Calgary Stampede, indigenous communities in Calgary, and Treaty 7 cultures." This will also be the new home of the Bannock Booth and craft market attractions from the old Indian Village. Photo by Michaela Ritchie