by Hannah Many Guns
Rather than soaking in the sun, the crowds attending this years Calgary Stampede instead found themselves soaking wet. A perpetual overcast hung sullen over the treaty seven territory, scattering the ten-day event with heavy rainfall and bouts of severe thunderstorms. Despite this weather disarray, the grounds entertained as many rodeo enthusiasts, if not more, as they have in recent years. The chucks still-a-wagoned and the barrels were raced; bull riders matched their eyes with death, and calves were lasooed in the split-of-a-sec. The rain smacked, smacked against the Grandstand – packed – as Stampede go-ers cheered and cheered – smiles remaining intact.
While the main draw to the Calgary Stampede is the rodeo and cowfolk, what really peaked the interest of First Nation’s Drum was the grand opening of the new and improved Indian Village.
“This is the third Indian Village that we’ve had on the park,” informs Russ Sabo, chairman of the Indian Events committee. “The first one was by the corral, and was affectionately refereed to as Sundre place. In 1974, they moved over to the South end of the park, which was almost one and half times bigger than the first one they had.” Last year, many tipi owners were uncertain about leaving their homebase for new pastures in the east. “There was a lot of consultation with the tipi holders about the placement of the new Indian Village,” continues Sabo, ensuring us that there was a strong foundation of mutual agreement between the Indian Village and Stampede officials when it came to settling on the new location. “This space that we have here is about two point three times bigger than the last. We have this great green space where people can come and bask in it’s oasis, enjoy the ambiance, and explore our expanded tipi circle.”
The upgrades are apparent, and it was clear that the Calgary Stampede capitalized on the fifteen-million dollar project. Rather than the usual foot-trodden paths, there is now this wide wheel-chair accessible sidewalk. It curves and swoops, spanning from one-side-of-the-village-to-the-other, guiding Stampede visitors to the centre of the tipi circle. The new Suncor Sweetgrass Lodge is a brick-built multi-story haven for Indian Village volunteers, tipi-owners, and officials to use at their leisure. “We have space in this building that will see us well into the future for year-round aboriginal programming,” beams Sabo. The lodge provides the village with modern conveniences such as meeting rooms, laundry facilities, a dining area, showers, spa-like bathrooms, and a new state-of-the-art Bannock Booth. A great oak amphitheatre nestles in the middle of the lodge and tipi circle. The village utilized this area as they have did their last stage, presenting pow-wows, cultural teachings, and musical performances for visitors eager to immerse themselves in our First Nation culture.
Along with seeing all of this first-hand, First Nation’s Drum got a chance to speak with the Calgary Stampede’s newest cultural addition: the six Treaty Seven Warriors. Being no more than in their late-teens to early twenties, they shared with us some of their youthful thoughts on the new Indian Village.
“They say it’s bigger, but, I dunno, for me… it seems smaller,” ponders Warrior Austin Standing Low. Not physically, of course, but there’s something definitely missing. It is as though the usual energy that used to fill the Indian Village lies stagnant in the soil at the South end of the park.
Warrior Anthony Crow Shoe suggests that there should have been more time put towards planning the layout. “Our last location was strategically placed, and you could have a big crowd watching the pow-wow. It was on a hillside, so people could just sit anywhere and be able to see. But now it’s just flat.”
“On the other hand,” commiserates Warrior Cam Crow Chief, “it is a lot bigger, and a lot less drunk people are comin’ through. It was right beside two beer gardens before, and people would be coming through, just scrappin’, you know, right in front of our elders and young ones,” he shakes his head. “It’s a good thing that they put it right next to the Kiddy Land, and now it’s a whole lot better for our kids to be safe and all that.”
Crow Chief is spot on, the Indian Village is further away from the usual stream of Stampeder’s, in turn becoming a sort of sanctuary of peace and tranquillity. However, it is a lot closer to the stream of the river, and is therefore susceptible to the not so tranquil rising of the water.
“The way they have it set up is, geez, you know, if another flood happens again, there’s no stopping it,” speculates Crow Shoe. “We’re right beside the river. It would have been nice if they put us on higher ground.”
Sitting just below Scotchman’s Hill, the new village lies alongside the Elbow river, an area which had been completely flooded back during the 2013 Alberta floods. Due to this years persistent rain fall, the west half of the tipi circle had to temporarily evacuate due to three flash-floods. During this time, some of the tipi’s’ traditional artifacts were water damaged beyond repair. Along with this, the fast-tracked landscape development also proved to have suffered due to the excess water. By the fifth day, many areas of the village had become sopping wet, and the mud ensued.
“Around the arbour there’s no bleachers anymore,” states Standing Low, “everyone is just crowded in the muck when it rains on the grass”. The rest of the warriors agree that there should be more attention in improving the audiences experience of the amphitheatre. First Nation’s Drum also agree’s, and suggests that there should be an investment in bleachers to surround the performance space. We also think that the area would be more cultural defined if an increase of artistic vision helped shape the appearance of the Indian Village. For now, the area feels a bit barren, corporate, and the brick walls of the Sweetgrass Lodge are not much unalike the brick walls of the old residential school that still stands on the prairies of Siksika Nation. The tipi’s, though. The tipi’s are as awesome as always.
When it really comes down to it, the honest truth is that the village needs to undergo many more stages of planning in order to accurately represent First Nation’s culture. The space is beautiful, expansive, and it is rich with potential. What is more is that the quiet, secluded location invites visitors to enter an entirely different world once stepping off of fair grounds.
Like the plains First Nation’s people that we are, we are bound to seek and find where adjustments need to be constructed. We will incorporate our traditions within much needed renovations. We will depend on our communication and invite purposeful innovation. With the future ahead of us, let us fill our present with every intention to thrive and prosper in this new location. We are here, now, existing on the forefront of a whole new era of the Calgary Stampede’s Indian Village, let’s take advantage of it.