Astokomii Smith of the Siksika First Nation has been crowned 2019 Calgary Stampede First Nations Princess. The 19-year-old Astokomii, which means “Calling Thunder” in Blackfoot, competed against contestants representing other Treaty 7 First Nations – Blood Tribe, Peigan First Nation, Tsuu T’ina Nation, and Stony Tribe.
Astokomii began dancing at the age of four, and has always danced Fancy Shawl. She was in complete disbelief when her name was announced as the winner among six candidates.
“I thought I was hearing wrong when they announced my name, mostly because the five other girls were so friendly, positive, and such good role models, plus I was the youngest of the group.” said Astokomii. “The most challenging part of the pageant I think was initially putting my name forward, it took a lot of courage in me because at times I still doubt myself, but this is something I really wanted to do, and I’m so glad I did.”
This is the first year the role has taken on the new “First Nations” title after officials last year changed it from “Indian.” The First Nations Princess will make hundreds of appearances locally, nationally, and internationally to educate people about Indigenous culture, and their ties to the Calgary Stampede.
Many factors played in her decision to run for the Calgary Stampede First Nations title.
“My main drive was my anxiety, which is sort of ironic because for years my anxiety held me back from so many things, but I’ve learned to cope a lot better,” said Astokomii. “I wanted to show that even with dealing with internal struggles such as anxiety that I could still be a princess. I want others to know that anxiety is not a weakness, and you could still do big things. Anxiety is something we all experience in our lives, and I figure with such a big platform such as the Calgary Stampede First Nations Princess, it will allow me to talk about it in a positive way.”
Vanessa Stiff Arm, former Calgary Stampede Indian Princess and current program coordinator for the Calgary Stampede Elbow River Camp, said that Astokomii plans to bring awareness to people suffering from mental illness.
“She will also educate people on the rich culture of Treaty 7 First Nation culture throughout Calgary, Canada, and the world, and be spreading western hospitality wherever she goes this year,” said Stiff Arm.
Over a two-and-a-half week period, six candidates were judged on their public speaking, personal interviews, their traditional dancing, and how well they mixed and mingled with different groups of people. They were also judged on their knowledge of the Calgary Stampede, and Treaty 7.
Astokomii is looking forward to representing the Calgary Stampede.
“Among many other things, the Calgary Stampede has always shown that we really are ‘Greatest Together,’” said Astokomii. “Personally, I have never seen an event of such big influence work together with so many people. It’s done amazing at representing not only Western heritage but Indigenous heritage as well. To me, the Calgary Stampede truly shows how well people of many different backgrounds can work together, and learn from each other.”
Astokomii is a recent graduate from Siksika Outreach where she earned the Governor General’s Award for Highest Academics, and she is the Indigenous Liaison for the Town of Strathmore. Her family background includes the Yellow Old Woman, Red Gun, Many Guns, and Larocque families. Astokomii’s parents are Gisele Backfat and Cassius Smith, and her grandparents are Darlene Yellow Old Woman and Cody Munro.
“This year we had three ladies from Siksika, one from the Stoney Nakoda, one from Tsuu T’ina, and one from Piikani,” said Stiff Arm. “It was a big group this year, and I hope to see some of them at next year’s pageant.”