Posts By: Aaron Many Guns

Native Chuckwagon Racers Shine at Calgary Stampede

Todd Baptiste

Due to the rule setting 65 years old as the mandatory retirement age for Chuckwagon racers, the first day of the Rangeland Derby marked Ray Mitsuing’s final appearance at the Calgary Stampede. Rules are rules. 

Ray drew the number four barrel and had a bit of a dual with fellow native Todd Baptiste on the backstretch. Ray couldn’t get the rail and Baptiste overtook him and the leader on his way to winning the 8th heat of opening day. 

Todd Baptiste’s rising up and out from within the shadow of one the game’s best racers is symbolic. Mitsuing has been in the Rangeland Derby for as long as I remember and has always been one of the top racers at the Calgary Stampede. To see him do so well at his final meet was inspiring. 

Paired with Baptiste in the 8th heat for the first four days, Ray eventually avenged his loss, but penalties knocked him down to the 6th race and it’s an uphill battle when seconds get added to your overall time.

On the other hand, Todd Baptiste was near the top of the standings throughout the ten days and stood at 2nd place on day nine. I wished him good luck before his first race and then watched him win after overtaking Mitsuing and Logan Gorst on the final stretch. After that race, I mentioned to him that his Uncle Edgar Baptiste won the Rangeland Derby in 1996 by going penalty free. “That’s what we wanna’ do,” said Baptiste, a very-focused man of few words.

Ray Mitsuing was able to win some heats. He put in a good showing for his final Rangeland Derby by managing to stay away from the tragic mishaps marring an otherwise exciting week of racing where four incidents cost the lives of six horses. I witnessed the first accident, which occurred as the horses came around the first turn. One horse fell and was dragged a few yards by the rest of the team only a few feet from where I stood. I knew something was wrong because the horses just came to a complete stop. None of them moved as they waited silently for help to arrive. 

The response from animal rights groups with their calls to abolish the sport was immediate and grew louder with each additional equine fatality. The horse-owners and families involved were sad to see the accidents. They say Chuckwagon racing is a sport with horses that are built for speed doing what they’re born to do, just like the horses in the thoroughbred racing world. 

Chuckwagon racing has become relatively safer with the changes made to the way the wagons are constructed. Abolishing these events would drive them underground and leave them without any oversight. Safety measures taken by the professional Chuckwagon organizations would most likely be ignored. Either way, this form of racing is a way of life. Horse owners take great care ensuring the safety of their team and they feel the loss personally when tragic accidents happen to one of their animals.

These horse deaths shouldn’t take away from the amazing week Mitsuing and Baptiste had by driving their wagons with precision, speed, and love for their sport. Ray Mitsuing did very well, and Todd Baptiste has a bright future in Chuckwagon racing. He may very well surpass his uncle if he keeps improving, but this year he had to settle for 2nd place overall. Just like his Uncle Edgar, Baptiste drew the third barrel in the final heat but had a late charge. The eventual winner, Logan Gorst, was just a little faster all week. 

All in all, the week was good for us natives by our having these two drivers in the thick of things. As Ray Mitsuing bid his final farewell to the crowd, the stampede paid tribute and honored him by playing the “Happy Trails” chorus on the loud speakers. Farewell Brother.

Indian Relay Catching on with Racing Fans

Indian Relay Races have been held south of the border for as long as anyone can remember. Some say the concept started over 500 years ago with the Bannock-Shoshone Tribes in what is now the Southern U.S. States as a way to quickly spread word that an enemy was approaching. 

It became popular at rodeo events in the past but got forgotten for a time until it caught on again in the U.S. in the 70s when it was as an added event designed to put more bums in the seats. It has been successful at that so far. Indian Relay Racing has become such a popular event in Canada that it has been added to the Calgary Stampede’s Rangeland Derby. 

Audiences get pumped up watching our Native brothers ride bareback like the wind and not fall off the horse – most of the time. The race starts with riders mounted on thoroughbred horses that are painted like war horses of the past when going into battle. When the horn blares, they’re off and running. 

The jockey or “warrior” rides the horse for one lap and then leaps off. The “catcher” or “mugger” grabs that horse as the jockey jumps on a different horse that’s being held by the “holder,” and then takes off for another round. This is repeated three times. Due to the sport’s chaotic nature, the field is usually whittled down by a couple of racers in some unfortunate situation that’s hopefully not too painful. 

Siksika’s Blackfoot Warrior Party Horsemanship Film Society is led by Lavina Many Guns. She’s hosted meets at the Strathmore Rodeo grounds for the past seven years as part of a Canada Day event. Judging by the increasing number of fans, the sport is having some success at attracting locals and out-of-towners. 

This year’s happening was another well attended affair. Eight teams competed in three heats over two days of competition. The first day went well with the weather cooperating. Sunday started off sunny with clear skies that lasted until the Lady Warrior Race was finished. Then the wind and rain practically cleared the bleachers just as the Indian Relay Races were about to begin. 

But these are tough, prairie country folks, so the show went on with the Pretty Young Man racing team coming out on top in the relay event’s final race. Special guest Eugene Brave Rock, who played the Chief in the movie Wonder Woman, dressed in warrior regalia for Sunday’s finals. 

The Calgary Stampede hosted the Indian Relay Races for five days after the 9th heat of the Rangeland Derby. The Grandstand show followed the Chuckwagon races, which normally is the time when the crowd takes a bathroom break or goes to get another brewsky. With the Indian Relay Races about to begin, not many people left their seats as the event proved to be too good to miss. 

The warriors had one heat each night to entertain the crowd and ride for day money. The first night’s race was won by Team Old Sun from Siksika Nation, but not without some wild exchanges due to the switching area being too small for the transfer of horses. Monday’s race was won by Team Anatapsi – “cutie” in Siksika language – from the Piikuni Nation in Southern Alberta. I was not able to make it for Tuesday’s performance. Wednesday’s race was won by Young Money. In Thursday’s finals, Siksika’s Team Old Sun, jockeyed by Cody Big Tobacco, led for the final two laps. Despite a late charge by Thunder Beings and Young Money, Cody managed to hang on and win for Team Old Sun by about four horse lengths.

Tyrone Potts of Piikuni is the organiser for the stampede races and was very happy with the team’s performances. Asked if the Indian Relay Races could be expanded to two or three events, Potts said he was hopeful. Though the stampede is already quite a large event, the more exposure Indian Relay Races gets, the better. 

Interest is growing in attending Indian Relay Racing as a stand-alone event. Beside the Strathmore and Calgary events, a meet was organised by June Many Grey Horses and held in Lethbridge on July 16 and 17. Dexter Bruised Head of the Canadian Indian Relay Racing Association produced meets in Maple Creek Saskatchewan on July 18, and Kainai held a two-day event on July 20 and 21. The finals will be held at the Century Downs Race track in Calgary over Labour Day weekend. Hosted by the Canadian Indian Relay Racing Association (CIRRA), it should be a good indicator of the interest level from non-Native racing fans. 

If the sport can survive for approximately the past 80 years in the U.S. and then move north of the border, it has potential to become mainstream in the near future. This should be welcomed good news to the young people of Turtle Island because it give us pride in an event that could be a unifying force amongst our Indigenous communities. Teams that competed in Strathmore and Calgary included names like Morning Rider, Running Wolf, Little Buffalo Stone, Young Money, Sioux Foot, Anatapsi, Thunder Beings, Pretty Young Man Racing, and Team Old Sun. 

I asked riders what motivates them to participate in such a dangerous sport, and they said the sport makes them feel proud of who they are and it is another opportunity to help steer our young people in a positive direction – something that has been missing in our communities for far too long. Horse culture was introduced by Europeans. It is one aspect of European culture that Natives quickly became equal or better at, and that’s something that can never be taken away from us. 

Siksika Nation Enters Cannabis Business

The sky hasn’t fallen and civil society hasn’t collapsed since Canada ended its national cannabis prohibition in October 2018. Contrary to the warnings by drug warriors, cannabis decriminalization and government regulation has resulted in economic opportunity and empowerment and is generating additional revenue needed to better finance important tribal programs.

Siksika Nation is the latest First Nation to stake a claim in the Green Rush. Via a 50/50 partnership with Kelowna BC-based Frozen Penguin Medical Industries, construction is set to begin this fall on a 25,000 sq. ft. cannabis cultivation and processing facility.  Involved with cannabis production since 2013, Frozen Penguin brings invaluable experience to the partnership. Reefer grown at the facility will exclusively help supply Health Canada and none will be diverted for recreational resale at a dispensary.

When complete, the building will be the first purpose-built cannabis production facility constructed on Indigenous land in Canada, according to Siksika Resource Development Ltd. CEO Tom Many Heads. The facility will be located in the same industrial park as SRDL headquarters. Siksika Construction, the construction arm of Siksika Resource Development Ltd. (SRDL), will be given the honour of helping build the infrastructure and erect the structure. No figures are available on the number of construction jobs that will be created, but 50 full-time positions for Siksika Nation members to staff the facilities’ day-to-day cultivation operation will be needed.

The plan is to produce five crop rotations per year that are expected to bring Siksika Nation coffers up to $15 million annually. The band intends to spend the money on social programs like housing and combating the opioid crisis – a catastrophe that is especially hard on Canadian Indigenous communities where many of our young people are succumbing to the deadly outcome of addiction.

The warehouse-type structure will contain a number of grow rooms. Frozen Penguin is working on a new system developed by RotoGro where plants are grown in a barrel-shaped planter and fertilized using a rotating motion. Barrels provide approximately 3.14 times additional grow area when compared to a bed, and this system can increase the yield by as much as twelve times the floor space of a traditional facility. For twelve months, Frozen Penguin has been testing the system at their Kelowna facility, and according to RotoGro CEO Adam Clode, they’re “getting exceptional yields.”

The RotoGro system will help Siksika Nation set the price they need to sell at to stay competitive and turn a profit. That would be good news for Siksika First Nation. According to Roland Bellerose, an advocate for Indigenous participation in the pot business, pricing for recreational sales are quite high and may not be sustainable. “What happens when a country like Columbia starts selling their product at 60 cents a gram?” asks Bellerose.

Siksika Nation’s decision to grow Mary Jane follows that of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation, who in 2018 retrofitted an 84,000 sq. ft. former bottling plant located on their land and began producing medical and recreational weed. Akwesasne’s pot business is 100 percent band owned and has 75 employees. Business has been good and the band plans to expand to a 100,000 sq. ft. facility in the near future.

Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN), located next to The Pas in Manitoba, is another First Nation community that’s gotten into the weed business. They partnered with National Access Cannabis (NAC), in a 51/49 company ownership split. OCN and NAC focus on the recreational segment of the business and sell their products in NAC’s Meta Cannabis Supply Co. stores. They recently opened a dispensary in the OCN providing jobs for 12 Opaskwayak.

Siksika’s goal is for 100 percent ownership. Though branching out and joining the recreational-use dispensary sector in the future is a possibility, for now they want to learn, develop, and perfect the medicinal cannabis business one step at a time.

Frozen Penguin is in the process of a name change to comply with Health Canada’s strict rules against using animal names to promote products such as cannabis.

Summit Shares Vision for Way Forward

Melrene Saloy, Teara Frazier, Stephan Nairn, Jordon Jolicoeur, Jenn Harper and Heather Black who were in the Seed To Success panel.
L-R Melrene Saloy, Teara Frazier, Stephan Nairn, Jordon Jolicoeur, Jenn Harper and Heather Black who were in the Seed To Success panel. Photo by Aaron Many Guns.

The Forward Summit was a good distraction from the chaos in world affairs. The February 26-28 event attracted a gathering of industry professionals, bankers, consultants, a dragon, and Indigenous people seeking better communication and participation in today’s economy.

First Nations Drum attended the first two days of the three-day conference held at the Telus Convention Centre in downtown Mohkínstsis – “elbow” in Blackfoot, and their name for Calgary, Alberta. The summit began on a bone-chillingly cold day with Elder Martin Heavy, Head of the Kainai Nation, opening with a Blessing and thank you to the Creator. Following were panel sessions, roundtable discussions, and workshops.

Nicole Robertson, one of the organizers for the Forward Summit conference speaks to delegates.
Nicole Robertson, one of the organizers for the Forward Summit conference speaks to delegates. Photo by Aaron Many Guns.

The panel sessions started with the First Nation Major Projects Coalition, which is a group of 52 members from across Canada who want to help each other in negotiating the acquisition or building of major infrastructure projects. These projects will bring employment and a degree of financial independence.

Shane Gottfriedson, a former chief of the Tk’emlup First Nation, near Kamloops B.C., gave a keynote speech on his band’s expanded portfolio. They invested in resource development that includes partnership in a gold mine.

He also talked about his own business dealings with friends in starting Powwow Coffee Co. and becoming franchisees with Tim Hortons. They hope to build their Powwow Coffee company to become one of the major suppliers in B.C. and beyond.

The roundtable discussions were held concurrently, so I chose to attend Attracting Capital and Sustainable Economic Participation. There were also discussions on hydrocarbons, mining partnerships in Canada, capacity building, and energy gridlock.

Preston Manning was in on the discussion, and he mentioned that the challenges Indigenous people face need support by positive and proactive political will from government to move infrastructure projects along. Removing political risk would make Indigenous participation possible.

Chief Jason Gauthier of the Missanabie Cree First Nation spoke about his band’s involvement in purchasing a railroad in north Ontario, additional agreements in revenue sharing, partnership in a large forestry company, and 70 joint ventures.

Mathew August from Animus Capital Partners explained his firm’s work with Indigenous communities that wish to acquire infrastructure projects and be involved from the planning phase to completion and operations.

Also in the Attracting Capital and Sustainable Economic Participation roundtable discussions were the China Railway First Survey and Design Initiative Group who shared their railway-building expertise. The company is doing a feasibility study on a rail link for the Ring of Fire development in north Ontario.  

Some summit participants were there looking for contacts and possible contracts. Clarence Assassin with Pride Hydrovac was busy networking when I asked him about the work situation in Northern B.C. He replied, “It’s slow like everywhere, but we have people and machinery out there.”

Jack Toth is founder and CEO of Impact Society, a group that works with Indigenous youth and communities. Toth was in attendance to better understand the commitment that industry groups have to holistic youth and community development. He wanted to learn how the Impact Society can partner with industry and communities in a positive manner so opportunities can be maximized.

Dan Pawlachuk from Deh Tai was at the summit getting info for the Fort Nelson First Nation, which has been expanding their business portfolio to include the Laird Hot Springs owned by the band.  

Troy Buchanan, from Modular Home Builder Modus out of Crossfield, Alberta, was there to promote their product to First Nations experiencing housing shortages. Those wanting a quote can contact his team via their website at Modus.ca.

A panel session on the second day covered building sustainable relationships. It brought together the Mikisew Cree Nation, McMurray Metis, and Chris Stannell of Teck Resources Ltd. who discussed their involvement in the proposed Frontier Project north of Fort McMurray.

The Mikisew Cree have lived in the area since time immemorial and were opposed to the project initially, but through consultations with all the groups involved, they’ve come to an agreement that will safeguard the environment during construction, operation, and for the duration of the project. This project will need pipelines built and add 260,000 bbl/d to the supply system for the life of the mine.

In the event of a spill, Delta Remediation explained their cleanup procedure that uses petroleum metabolizing organisms to break down spills and help nature heal itself through natural processes.

This method uses naturally occurring microbes, is non GMO, and safe for use in any environment where a pipeline is situated. Across Canada and the U.S., pipelines are having a lot of problems getting started, and those being built are having trouble getting completed.

Chief Clifford White of the Gitxaala Nation spoke of their relationship with LNG Canada and how he’s pushing for legacy projects to help future generations so that when natural resource projects are no longer viable, the wealth created will have been properly invested and provide a return. “We want to make sure that our people are looking at that 7th generation of our children’s children yet to be born,” said White.

Guy Lonechild, CEO of First Nations Power Authority, talked about Indigenous groups getting into solar and clean energy projects. He explained how his group partnered with the Saskatchewan government to deliver 40 megawatts of renewable energy to SaskPower.

Heather Black of Creative Spirit Solutions moderated a panel session of small business entrepreneurs who started up small businesses after getting opportunities either through trial and error, hard work, or luck.

Jordan Jolicoeur is CEO of Carvel Electric who managed to pull off a $300,000 contract through handwork, determination, and a few credit cards. Stephen Nairn is an expert on project risk analysis who saw a lack of risk capital for Indigenous entrepreneurs, so he and some friends started Raven Indigenous Capital Partners.

Teara Fraser always wanted to go to Africa, so when she had a chance to go, it was in a small plane. When the plane banked, she saw what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Frasier become a pilot and founded Iskwew Air, and today she is selling her first air surveying company.

The Growth of the Cannabis and Hemp Industry round table discussion was hosted by Francine Whiteduck and Roland Bellerose of the Cannabis and Hemp Indigenous Consortium Canada. Bellerose spoke of the way many Indigenous people have always known cannabis as a medical plant and this is why we need cooperation from as many Nations as we can get to better lobby for growth and distribution of all types of cannabis products.

Hemp and cannabis are good carbon-capture tools that have the potential to transform our economy by helping to rebuild our manufacturing industry and selling finished products to the rest of the world.  

Reconciliation will take time, but events and conferences like Forward Summit are important for Indigenous and non-native people because they remind us we have too much in common to keep going the way it has been since our ancestors were forced to accept a foreign way of life.

Forward Summit organizers Miki Reeder of Connect Partnership Group and Muskwa Media’s Nicole Robertson wanted Indigenous people who are experts in their fields of work included in the summit. After attending, I found it evident they were successful in attracting those experts. A shout out also to event co-chairs Chief Charles Weaselhead of Kainai Nation and JP Gladu, CEO of Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB).

Those interested in receiving updates and learning more about Forward Summit should visit ForwardSummit.ca,

Another Side of the Native Oil Activism Story

Everyone’s heard of Native protesters blocking pipelines to protect Mother Earth, but what about Natives having a stake in the oil industry? Native chiefs and representatives gathered at the Tsuu T’ina Nation’s Grey Eagle Casino to discuss the question before an audience of government officials, bankers, and oil executives at the Indigenous Energy Summit.

Stephan Buffalo is an organizer of the January 15 and 16 event who has had comments directed toward him on social media characterizing Native leaders cooperating with Big Oil and the money it brings in as, “greedy” and “sell outs.” Native proponents of cooperation argue that being a part of the business and industrial infrastructure of the Canadian economy should be reason for unity among First Nations across Turtle Island.

The oil sands are the third largest oil deposit in the world, and the existing pipeline has been in operation for 65 years. Passenger vehicles, semi-transport, trains, aircraft, and the economy are dependent upon oil, and there is no change coming in the foreseeable future. First Nations wanting to invest in a project cite these facts to gain support for a program they believe will help Natives ween ourselves off government funding, which is the goal of chiefs who spoke at the Indigenous Energy Summit urging detractors to come on board.

Tamarack Valley Energy CEO Brian Schmidt says, “If First Nations were to invest in Trans Mountain and took a stake, it would send a strong signal across Canada that there is acceptance of that; that there is another side to the story.”

While “unity” was the message of many participants and speakers, Derek Wapass of the Thunderchild First Nation says media is using the split in Native opinion to help sell their news. Wapass, who is with the group Project Reconciliation, said “News that thrives on conflict and discontent, who’s to tell our truth? With this fractured and divided approach, is it possible that many great opportunities have been squandered to our detriment? Is it possible we ourselves are creating obstacles to those opportunities? Are we getting in our way?” asked Wapass. “I believe we’re at a tipping point, where we, as Indigenous people, have an incredible opportunity to create a new way of looking at the TMX pipeline. I believe it is time we had a louder voice; a collective voice in this pipeline’s impact.”

First Nations having a seat at the table ensures proper procedures will be followed to protect the environment during both construction and the maintenance after completion, leading to economic benefits for those willing to participate and invest, according to proponents. After consulting with financial advisors and leaders, Project Reconciliation’s financial model concluded participating presents a unique opportunity for First Nations to own anywhere from a majority up to 100 percent interest in the project. “I don’t look at it from a dollar perspective, I look at it as getting it right on the environment, getting it right on the marine, and getting it right as the stewards of the land and waters,” said Wapass.

Roy Fox, Blood Tribe Chief, spoke about his people’s investments in oil and renewable technologies, and said no harm has ever come to his people, animals, land, water or air. “We have ensured that exploration, production, and transmission activity is conducted on a sustainable and responsible manner on our reserve.”

Fox said investment in the Trans Mountain pipeline depends on Bills C69 and C48 failing in the senate, bills he is opposed to and described as “deal killers.” If the bills are defeated, he and the Blood Tribe would be seriously looking at the possibility of investing in the pipeline. “We’d do our due diligence, and if it’s a sure thing, then maybe,” said Fox.

Bill C69 replaces the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act of 2012 with a new Impact Assessment Act, and replaces the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency with a new Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. The Act adds enhanced consultation with Indigenous groups that may be affected, and expands factors like traditional indigenous knowledge.

Bill 48 is the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act. It prohibits tankers from stopping or unloading at ports or marine installations along BC’s north coast if they carry over 12,500 metric tons of crude or persistent oil. The moratorium extends from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border, and prohibits loading when the additional oil results in the tanker carrying more than 12,500 metric tons of those oils.

Defeat of Bills C69 and C48 does not guarantee a new project will move forward because Vivian Krause warned any entity buying the pipeline will meet opposition from a well-funded Anti-Oilsands campaign, which has a record of effectively stalling new projects and can stop pipeline expansion.