Posts By: Hannah Many Guns

Elbow River Camp, a stepping stone to understanding

“Camp life here, it’s interesting. The kids, the people – they get a taste of what life used to be,” expressed Siksika’kowan Hutch Sitting Eagle, the owner of the 2019 Elbow River Camp’s ‘Best Tipi’. It’s yellow, green, red, and brown, and six white dots are painted on the smoke ears in order to protect and honour the tribes children. As we talk, we face the poles of his tipi, which have already been tied up to a long trailer, hitched to a truck, and are about to make their journey back east to Siksika Nation. 

“We have an opportunity here to grow, and to teach our children,” Sitting Eagle said. “We have the opportunity to show these children, and not to use what has happened to us in the past as a crutch. When we went through residential school, it was an awful time, yes. We use that to get stronger. We use that to get better. We don’t say ‘okay, I’m like this because of that’. No. We say: ‘I’m gonna’ be a better person for my children so that I can be a better leader for them so that they know how to live in this day and age, and they know how to grow in the fast-growing global culture.”

Many Blackfoot, Dene, and Stoney youth come to this camp when seeking to understand their tribes history. Just sitting in the setting of an old tipi camp circle is so important. The camp has this essence generated from all of the families at the camp that sleep in their tipi’s for the 10 days. They adorn their tipi’s with pine, cedar, sage, mint, or sweetgrass to wash away negative energy. Inside, a home is made. Beds, big and small, encircle ashen firepits. A place of conversation, of night-time teachings. This place is an all around sanctuary that stirs blood memory, reminiscent of a time long ago. 

“For me, I love coming to the Stampede, don’t get me wrong, but what I love more is once I’m done here I get to go to my Sun Dance,” Sitting Eagle is talking about the Siksika Sun Dance at the end of July. After inviting me, an opportunity I most definitely accepted, he smiles and says: “Stampede is just a stepping stone for some of our children, and in the end they get to go to the Sun Dance and see what a real camp is like.” Every year, so many youth experience the Elbow River Camp and “say: ‘well, I was at the Stampede. Now I want to really learn’.”

The Stampede’s First Nation Princess, Astokomii (meaning ‘Calling Thunder’ or ‘Voice of Thunder’ in Blackfoot) Smith expresses that she sunk more into herself during the Stampede, and gained more confidence during her reign. “I used to be very scared to speak in front of a crowd, but the other day I spoke in front of over 20,000 people, and I wasn’t nervous at all.” She averaged 12-15 events per-day, working about 16 hours for each of the 10 days. 

Another youth, Lucas Healy, worked at the camp as a Junior Interpreter, working everyday 10am til 4pm. “It was a great experience working with my people and getting to know more about my culture,” he says. “Now-a-days you don’t really get to have that kind of environment around as much.” We really don’t here in Calgary. Setting up a tipi here can easily be mistaken for a protest. So the Elbow River Camp is a welcome opportunity to put such misconceptions to rest.

“Our purpose here is to share who we are so that people from around the world know who we are,” says Sitting Eagle. “To respect that we were here first. To respect that we are real. You don’t have to go to a museum to see us. We’re here. We’re a living culture. We haven’t died. Our language isn’t gone, it’s just been put away for a while. Our culture isn’t gone, it’s been put away.” 

The Treaty 7 tribes include the Blackfoot Confederacy, comprised of the Siksika, Piikani, and Kainai nation; the Sioux, who reside around the gateway to the Mountains – Stoney Nakoda; the Dene, whose Tsuu’Tina Nation lays on the outer curve of Calgary. Coming together as the ever representative Elbow River Camp, these tribes teach the public of the oldest human culture/history/knowledge/interpretation/essence of these prairies, foothills, mountains, and rivers. 

Experiencing the Elbow River Camp is a great stepping stone to true understanding. The next steps are taken when we seize opportunities like sleeping in a tipi, going to a Sweat Lodge, experiencing a Sun Dance, attending a Pow-wow, reading about First Nations history, listening to an elder speak, learning a/your tribes language, or even simply taking a hike through nature. Take that step, it’s so important. 

Indspire Awards 2019

This years Indspire Awards was held in Calgary, Alberta at the Jubilee Auditorium on February 22nd. The event was beautifully designed all the way down to the free bannock and popcorn, and a memorable stage designed to come to life with nature inspired video graphics. Gracing this stage were the honourable recipients whose unyielding dedication to their passions, community, and culture has earned them an Indspire achievement award.

From Driftpile Cree Nation, AB, poet Billy-Ray Belcourt received the youth achievement award. At 23, his debut poetry collection This Wound Is A World has won multiple awards, most notable the Griffin Poetry Prize. His next poetry-prose hybrid NDN Coping Mechanism: Notes from the Field comes out in the Fall of 2019. Belcourt says that when he writes, he’s “always interested in how to refuse the narratives of suffering that have, for decades, demarcated how the public can understand native people. I’m always keeping my eye on how to breach that narrative, how to instead spin-one that always keeps in mind our futurity as native people, our ability to  love and care, to resist, to enact the kind of liberatory world that we want – that’s all at the core of my writing practice.”

From Sanikiluaq, NU, pop-artist Kelly Fraser received the youth achievement award. She won album of the year for her second album Sedna which was written with a mix of Inuktitut and English lyricism.

From Metis Homeland, MB, canoe and kayak athlete James Lavalee received the youth achievement award. It’s on his blood memory to paddle the waters of his homeland, and by following the pull to pursue this professionally, he’s reached extraordinary heights. In 2017, he won three medals at the Canada Summer Games, and received the highly prestigious Tom Longboat Award for indigenous male athlete of the year.

The Arts recipient this year was Barbara Todd Hager from St. Paul Des Metis Settlement, AB. She is a writer, producer, and director. Her docu-drama series 1491: The Untold Story of the Americas Before Columbus covers 20,000 years of history and is told from the indigenous perspective. This is the kind of powerful narrative that the film industry is in need of, thank-you Hager for putting your mind to it!

Award recipient for Business & Commerce  went to Westbank First Nations (BC) Chief Ron Derrickson. Elected as Chief of his nation in 1976, his business models have lifted his community out of poverty and they are now one of the wealthiest bands in the country. .

Jijuu Mary Snow Shoe from Gwich-in Nation, NT received the award for Culture, Heritage, and Spirituality. Her greatest lessons were those taught to her by her father. He taught her how to survive on this earth, and of the importance of land, fire, and water – these are the true powers of the world. Snow Shoe tells First Nation Drum “I really would like to leave this with the youth, to go and get their education, to go to university, become a doctor or nurse or whatever, it’s all out there but they have to work for it to get it. Another one, to try to learn more about their culture, and how to survive out on the land.”

Dr. Vianne Timmons from Mi’kmaq, NS received the education award. As the Vice Chancellor at the University of Regina, Timmons says, “Indigenous youth are Canada’s next generation of leaders, so there is nothing more important than ensuring they get the education they deserve. Education opens doors, creates opportunity, build leaders, and changes lives.”

Dr. Marlyn Cook from Misipawistik Cree Nation, MB received the award for health. In 1987, she was the first First Nations woman to graduate from the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Medicine. Though something was amiss for her with all this western medical knowledge,and now weaves traditional healing together with western healing, ensuring the body, mind, and spirit of each patient is cared for.

For Law & Justice the award went to community-oriented lawyer Dianne Corbiere from M’Chigeeng First Nation, ON. “In some ways we’re doing great because we have the Indspire awards and we see that if we work really hard and things are fortunate for us we can reach some very high goals! But there’s still a lot of our people who are struggling with the colonial realities, and you know, they’re addicted, they’re in jail, they’re in the child welfare system – so we have both, and I’d like to see where the pendulum swings more my way and that the kids are going to school, and having better lives.” She has dedicated her time at the Law Society of Ontario to many working groups and review panels, such as the working group formed by the federation of Law Societies of Canada to decide how best to respond to the Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation report.

For public service the award went to Peter Dinsdale from Curve Lake First Nation. He has dedicated his life to improving the lives his indigenous brothers and sisters, and does so in his position as President and CEO of YMCA Canada.

From Mallard, Manitoba and Cote First Nation, SK, Bridgette Lacquette received the sports achievement award. She played in Canada’s National Women’s Team at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. From a small community, dedication and resilience is what rose Lacquette to be among the best women hockey players in the world.

Even though she couldn’t make it to the ceremony, Atuat Akittirq was given a standing ovation and many blessings for her lifetime achievement award. From Aggu, NU, Akittirq embodies the resilience of Inuit knowledge and language. She was brought up in the traditional way, and continues to teach her traditional knowledge of culture and life as one of the Elder professors at the Piruvik Centre.

Amazing achievement, all resting on the backbone of determination, resilience, and education, definitely an inspiring evening for all who attended. Congratulations to this years Indspire recipients, your work is beautiful and makes all First Nations proud.

New Name Announced to Calgary Stampede Landmark

New name announced to Calgary Stampede Landmarka

Photo by Kelly Many Guns


“I really don’t like this word ‘Indians’,” expresses Siksika elder Rosalin Many Guns. She’s referring to the Calgary Stampede’s Indian Village.

“There’s one time I heard these people were going to the Indian Village, they came from India. They heard about it from seeing those booklets with the information, so they wanted to go to the Indian Village and see what they had there. They were expecting people from India, but when they got there, there was tipi’s and native people there, and they were surprised. They were like ‘what’s going on? How come they call it Indian Village?’” as Many Guns shakes her head – “I don’t like it.”

It wasn’t just Rosalin that had a distaste for the culturally outdated term ‘Indian’, many others disagreed with it, too. “We gotta’ change it,” said Siksika Nation’s Chief Joe Weaselchild at last years Stampede. And you know what, during the 2018 Calgary Stampede, tipi owners and officials decided that the pleas for a change wouldn’t go unheard.

“They officially announced that they named it Elbow River Camp,” says Chrystal Black Horse, a Siksika ladies fancy dancer. “I’m glad we’re getting recognized as niitsitapi, ‘real people’ for Blackfoot, or aboriginal. I’m glad we’re changing, and getting the ‘Indian’ out.” The Calgary Stampede changed it on their website and everything.

Gerald Sitting Eagle, Siksika member, elder, and camp advisor, said that the first meeting about changing the name came up about two years ago. Stampede officials and tipi owners sat down together and discussed the possibility for a change. “That name, the Elbow River Camp, came up at the first meeting, and everybody agreed to it. But the Stampede wanted to do it their way, so it took them a while to get it done.” Gerald has frustration in his tone when he talks about Stampede officials.

The name ‘Indian Village’ went unchanged for 106 years until now. It stuck for so long because the respect the tipi owners had towards Guy Weadick. Back in 1912, he was the man that got the Calgary Stampede officials to make a special agreement with the government that allowed First Nations people to leave their reserve, and come celebrate their traditions at the Stampede without any legal consequences. This was a huge deal to many because they had the opportunity to go back to Mohkínstsis (the Blackfoot term for ‘elbow’) and connect to the area through ceremony, dance, and intertribal gatherings. This was a triumph at the time, so Guy Weadick’s name stuck: The Indian Village. While it was understandable that this was a common term used a century ago, the term is a cause for confusion in 2018. We aren’t stuck on Christopher Columbus’ geographical screw up – this isn’t India. Here in Southern Alberta, we’re on the traditional plains, foothills, and mountains of the Blackfoot Confederacy, which include the Siksika, Kainai, Tsuut’ina, Stoney Nakoda, and Piikani First Nations.

This new name doesn’t use any race depicting terms, though. Nestled beside the Elbow River’s banks, the camp’s new name focusses on its location. “We wanted to have a unique name here because the Elbow River used to be a meeting place amongst our people,” shares Sitting Eagle. “We wanted to recognize that there’s a lot of stories about the Elbow River, and a lot of history on how Calgary chose to be a town on this spot.”

There is a need for indigenous-led workshops about the history and culture of the Mohkínstsis area at the camp. Many visitors come to enlighten themselves on First Nations culture, and the Elbow River Camp has the potential to be abundant with programming to provide true understanding. “I try and get the volunteers that work here to have a workshop on understanding the five different tribes, but nobody’s taking a stand on it. I’ve mentioned it about ten times now, nobody’s listening,” Sitting Eagle insists. So if you (yes, you the reader) have anything in mind, do not hesitate to contact the Calgary Stampede and make suggestions/take action.

Other than the name change, the camp had a good year. There was a larger market, daily powwows, and campers showcased their tipi’s and invited the public to walk around inside and view traditional artifacts within. Weather wise, nice and sunny, but one day there was a big wind that caused six tipi’s to fall. But, “while the tipi’s were going down and ripping,” Gerald “noticed that the people in the village really came together and helped.” The camp became a big family during Stampede time yet again.

Outside of the Elbow River Camp, the Indian Relay Race was in its second year of exhibition. Representative of the event Ray Champ says that they’re developing a new partnership with the Stampede, and thinks the event’s a good match with the rodeo.

“The crowd loves it,” says Ray. “There is nothing out there like it where the rider has to use his body as a baton and rides three horses bareback. It takes an insane amount of balance, muscle strength, and core strength.”

I asked Ray to explain the process of the relay race.

“You’ve got 3 horses, 4 team members – one of those being a rider of course. You line up four or five teams, and they all run around the track the first time. After the start, they come in, the teams are stationed at the start post, you ride in to your team and the rider literally jumps off onto the ground while the horse is moving, and jumps on to the next horse just as fast and then runs around the track again. When they get back, they make the final exchange, and race that last lap. Last lap, the rider won’t come into his team, he’ll race across the finish line.”

The exchange is the most critical part – the smoother you can be, the faster you can be, the better your chances of winning the race. It takes a lot of teamwork, talent, and respect for horses. The relay racers adorn their horses, too. They brush colourful paintings onto their coats and leave saddles, harnesses, and tassels to the wayside. It’s cool to see.

The Calgary Stampede has definitely created more spaces for First Nation exchange of knowledge and culture. They had the Indian Relay Race, DJ Shub and The North Sound were indigenous artists that played on the Coca-Cola Stage, and the name change to Elbow River Camp – all positive steps. They’re taking their tagline to heart, and are still working hard to be ‘the greatest outdoor show on earth’.


Treaty 7’s Camp Mohkínstsis

Photo by Destin Running Rabbit


For the past two months, a group of First Nation’s people have built and sustained an awareness site called, “Camp Mohkínstsis” – a Blackfoot term for “Elbow meets the Bow” – across the street from Calgary’s downtown courthouse.

It started as just a tent put up in protest against the Colton Boushie and Tina Fontaine verdicts. Today, the same tent still stands and is accompanied by two Blackfoot-style tipis.

Since its inception, the camp’s objectives have changed and it is no longer a protest. “I’m done protesting, I’m done talking, it’s time to act – and this is my action,” says camp leader Garret C. Smith. “Calgary is largely unaware of who we are as Indigenous people. The only time that we really get any form of acknowledgment for Indigenous people here in Calgary is during the Calgary Stampede when they have the Indian Village up. That’s why I want to occupy this space in the downtown core, to show everyone that yes, we are still here.”

Smith, known traditionally as Buffalo Curly Head, is a Blackfoot man from Southern Alberta. He is registered in the Piikani Nation, raised on the Kainai Nation and now lives in Calgary.

Smith sleeps at the campsite most nights, except when he’s working. He works with a touring children’s theatre company and he also teaches at schools in the Calgary area. Last year, Smith toured 33 schools. He said, with the exception of a couple schools, students always ask if Native people are still around.

“That was a big reason why I wanted to set this camp up, because there’s a whole generation of kids not knowing we’re here,” expressed Smith.

Camp Mohkínstsis has been hosting round-dances, tipi-raisings, story-time sessions with Blackfoot elders and other traditional events. They’ve also been a resource for anyone interested in learning more about Blackfoot culture.

Be it a contact given out to someone looking to partake in a sweat lodge ceremony, or a recipe for fry-bread, everyone at the camp is eager to help people navigate and access Blackfoot knowledge. Those who tend the camp are always open to talk and invite everyone and anyone to come inside.

“This is a camp made for the people, by the people,” affirms Smith. “No government funding, nothing from the band. It’s just fully our own people that did this ourselves.”

Camp Mohkínstsis is a warm, peaceful atmosphere. There’s a wood-burning stove in the tent that you can usually find boiling water for tea, frying up fry-bread or making meals for anyone that’s hungry. There’s a circle of chairs in the tent for visitors to sit and talk while music plays.

The tipis stand tall, and once you step inside one of them the streets of Calgary seem to vanish. There’s no more towers of exhaust, and all the commotion subsides just for a bit. Inside the tipi it’s just you, anyone else who is there with you, and a crackling fire. It’s a very soothing place to be, organized well and is operated respectfully.

Smith says he wants Camp Mohkínstsis to be up at least until the Calgary Stampede and has a strong vision about the camp’s future. “The vision that has popped up – I imagine this 400-foot tipi. This huge, huge tipi, built properly with modern structure. Built to look like a traditional Blackfoot tipi, solar panels on the outside, and as self-sustaining as we could possibly make it,” said Smith.

Within the building Smith wants to have tipis for ceremony, a recording studio, a performance space, and an all-Indigenous library with film, music, book, history and art archives. This would allow people from all over the world to access this cultural information and give Indigenous people a space to reconnect with their roots.

First Nations Drum will keep you updated on where this goes, but you can get your daily update through their Facebook page: “Camp Mohkínstsis.”

Photo by Destin Running Rabbit


The Mountain Money (Op-Ed)

Hannah’s a freelance writer who writes for First Nations Drum. The story you’re about to read is her perspective on a distribution of $3,500 she received as a member of the Siksika First Nation. On March 15, 2016, Siksika Nation members voted in favour of a $123 million deal that saw them give up claims to the Castle Mountain area in Banff National Park.

The distribution was for financial compensation for the Castle Mountain, located in the heart of the Banff Provincial National Park.The financial settlement was meant to compensate Siksika for illegal use of the 70-sq.-km land granted to them in 1892.

The Crown allowed timber sales and other transactions to continue on the land without compensation to the nation, and in 1908 the land was returned to the Canadian government without consent.

The Castle Mountain was granted to the Siksika Nation in 1892 by the federal government, then returned to the government without Siksika's consent in 1908

The Castle Mountain was granted to the Siksika Nation in 1892 by the federal government, then returned to the government without Siksika’s consent in 1908

I didn’t want the money, but the yes vote won. I voted no. I made a point to, too, because I knew most of the votes would be yes. They told us if we voted yes that we’d get 3500 bucks, and that this big, thick document would be approved. I didn’t read it. I went off of what I heard about it from my Dad, who read some of it. He didn’t like it, and he has a good mind about these kinda’ things. I mean, he grew up on the rez. So, with a blind trust in his thoughts, coupled with a suspicion as to why the government felt it necessary to make amendments to a document that gave Siksika rights to this spot of land with this super sweet mountain on it, I voted no. But, the yes vote won by a landslide – I think only 20 percent voted no. Or so I heard. So, I went to pick the money up. I biked cuz it was sunny out. When I got there, I was at the wrong building, so I hadta’ bike a dangerous route to the actual building, across Barlow trail (a busy road), up a grassy hill to 16th Avenue (another busy road), and then along its median strip. It was kinda’ elaborate, come to think of it, but I made it to the place on time,
and I got the damn cheque. It felt gross, picking it up, having it in my hands. I crumpled it up and stuffed it in my pocket, loosely. If it falls out, it falls out, I thought to myself. I got back to my bike, and, instead of going back the elaborate route, I just took the long way home. It rained most of the way – just poured. It was late in the summer, so it wasn’t cold or nothin’, but I thought it was weird, y’know, right after I picked up that damn cheque. Anyways, unfortunately the cheque didn’t fall outta’ my pocket, so I went to put the damn money in the bank. I wanted to get it done and over with. But the teller was suspicious of its authenticity, so he told me it would take a week to be approved. I ended up going in the next day to speak with the manager about it, and he said that that shouldn’t have happened and lifted the hold on the cheque. I mean, it was a government cheque in my name after all. I suspect the initial teller was being weary of my last name, but who knows. Anyways. I spent the money on a damage deposit and first months rent for an apartment that, after a year and a half of living in, I had to move out of abruptly after being unable to pay rent. I didn’t get that damage deposit back. A few months before that, I let a good friend of mine move in. We ended up not getting along all too well, and had some fights, and then a really big fight, and now we aren’t friends anymore. That place was a bad vibe place. Anyways, I also spent the money on some whiskey. The first and only time I drank it, I really made a fool of myself. I went to this party, sporting some heels I’d bought with the money, and mixing those with that whiskey, I slipped – hard – hit my head on a door, and woke up in the host of the parties bed. I was fine, but had a large goose bump, and had lost my cool. I haven’t talked to the girl that threw that party since. I kept that whiskey in my cupboard, which was a terrible idea. I should have just poured it down the sink then and there, but I didn’t. This had its consequence. One night, my sister stayed at my place so she could use my laptop to do some work. I wasn’t there, but she had the key, so it was all well and good. But, she found the whiskey, and, well, she drank some, n’ I reckon she got good and drunk, cuz she spilt a good sum of it on my laptop. It seeped into the cracks of the keyboard, frying my hard drive, instantly erasing my library of hundreds of films and thousands upon thousands of songs. It took years to compile that library, and that damn whiskey just wiped it all away. It was a major loss. The money also got me a pair of jeans, which ripped the first time I wore ‘em, and a bunch of other frivolous things. I was superstitious of having any of it, y’know, just real weary of it all. Anything I bought with that money was no good. It was blood money, I tell ya’. I remember my Dad saying that a lotta’ people on the rez died after getting that distribution, in strange ways, too. I mean, it may be superstitious to think the money had anything to do with it, but considering some of the things that happened to me, it really musta’. I can imagine that if I was in the state-of-mind to have bought more whiskey with that money, I’d have had some real bad luck. And I bet some people did have some real bad luck with that money. Be it the intentions they had when they used it, the things they bought with it, or the reason they voted the way they did, the bad luck came out of somewhere. It did for me, anyways, I just shouldn’t of spent that money on anything. I regret it. Around Christmas time of the same year, I dropped everything I bought off at a homeless shelter. It felt good – but… stale. I shoulda’ just donated the money to charity in the first place. But, that’s how it happened. The only thing I still have that I bought with the money is a record player, speakers, and some vinyl. I suspect something will happen to that stuff, but,
nothing so far.

Editorial: Thoughts on Reconciliation

A Journalism student, also host of Avocado Days a one-hour show on Calgary’s 90.9 CJSW FM Radio

Reconciliation, in it’s most basic definition, is when two opposing parties agree to an amicable truce. This is best done when both parties are open to exploring different ways of doing things. With this openness to learn, a dialogue is created, and a kind of symbiosis occurs between the two sides. They are now forming thoughts, beliefs, plans, and ideas together. They are changing. They are growing. They are becoming one.

Genuine reconciliation is best achieved through the cooperation of all, and cannot be the sole responsibility of our government, administrative heads, or “Her Majesty the Queen”.

“Each person has an important role to play in reconciliation. Reconciliation begins with oneself and then extends into our families, relationships, workplaces, and eventually into our communities,” expresses Reconciliation Canada, a First Nation-led organization that strives to build a better relationship among all Canadians. Their “Walk For Reconciliation” in Vancouver on September 24th encourages people to be as one, transforming and renewing the archaic race barriers legislated inside all treaties made by the Canadian government. These race barriers include enforcing the First Nations to be on reservations, accept rations, to abide by the laws of “Her Majesty the Queen”, and to acknowledge “Christ the Lord” as the single spiritual divinity.

All of this is still here today. The government and law enforcement mandate the use of the Bible – pledging themselves to tell the truth under “God”. Laws are enforced upon us, and we now dwell in this society riddled with rules and regulations. The First Nation reserves received rations way back when. They got food, building supplies, a promise to be educated (which took on the form of residential schooling), money, ammunition, farming assistance, freedom to hunt, and the bare minimum of essentials to live in the society that was going to be built around them.

Living in that exact society today, we receive money from past promises – for secondary education, building houses, health, and reserve operations. We also receive money as a form of apology. The government feels that each hundred they give will eventually clean the blood off their hands. This money is put into the hands of Chief and Council, whose ancestors blood it was. They take it and use it for whatever, and it never feels right. They keep doing it, anyways, because what else are they going to do? Fight about it? That’s been done. Fighting just doesn’t work. For now, they know what once was is gone forever, and it is important to move on. So we accept the money, but there’s something always missing in every cent spent, and every cent spent sedates us more and more. Today, we’ve become comfortable in this new system of wealth, and it rules our every move, and every decision. We’re a colonized nation inside Canada.

This is not to say that there aren’t positive aspects of colonization. International trade is a thing of beauty, and to travel overseas in a matter of hours is, too. Playgrounds of knowledge (universities, colleges, technical institutes) exist now – we can learn anything! We’ve got the internet, bikes, coffee, pizza, indoor plumbing, antibiotics, films, a diverse array of music, books, clothing, and art. However, we cannot be blinded by these material indulgences and conveniences. There are terrible things that have happened so we can have these things. We’ve hurt Mother Earth, used Her, abused Her, and have decided that we can pave over Her. We’ve decided that we do not need Her to make decisions, and all we need is man-made things like oil refineries, and food, clothing, and supply industries. We’ve become a nation divided by race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and wealth. We abide by land borders, “Her Majesty’s” law, and westernized governing systems.

Things are getting better, though. First Nation led movements such as Idle No More, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and pipeline protests have seen a surge in media presence. This has given First Nations more visibility, and therefore more of an opportunity to speak and be heard. Non First Nation people are listening, and are becoming less and less ignorant to what has happened in the past. They hear the truth, want to learn more, and to understand how to reconcile.

It is impossible to get back all that once was, but we can accept what has happened, and move forward together. That is why education is so important. It provides all with the opportunity to learn of the effects of colonization. The good, and the bad. It allows all to understand what previous First Nation leaders meant when they signed the treaties. It was an agreement to coexist peacefully, and move forward together in partnership. It was not meant to have “Her Majesty the Queen” dictate all.

Today, we have more of an ability then ever before to reach a symbiosis of thoughts, and form new ways of peaceful coexistence. How do we do this? I think it would be through acceptance. That’s important. Education is, too. Community building, and paying mind that community matters – that’s very important. Not thinking selfishly. Not thinking you’re above Mother Earth. Not thinking you’re above anyone. Not caring so much of material possessions. Being open to learn. Opening yourself to new ways of doing things. Teaching. Listening. Communicating.

By moving forward with these things in mind, I think we will get closer to genuine reconciliation and coming to that amicable truce. It won’t have to be written or told or legislated, no. Instead, it will feel natural, swirling in the air, filling us with a sweet, warm, calming connectedness. Until then, let’s keep trying to create that air.

Grassroots Blockade In Siksika Nation: Enough Is Enough

The strongest platforms for indigenous people are the ones we create ourselves. Since the beginning of November, Siksika Nation’s spiritual leaders have created a blockade in order to bring attention to inconsistencies within the community’s Chief and Council.

“We need to let the truth come out. We are hiding behind lies, but the people deserve the truth,” states Ben Crow Chief, initiator and voice of the blockade. In search of the truth, Crow Chief decided to inquire to Siksika’s governance in order to gain and share information about the 44 home development projects the Alberta Government has granted the reserve. Unfortunately, he and many others have received no clear information. Chief and Council have remained almost unanimously silent about the topic, thickening the communication barrier between the people and their supposed leadership.

“Enough is enough,” voices Ben Crow Chief. And so, up went the blockade.

Barricade Siksika pic web

Ben Crow Chief and others initiated the blockade to urge their chief to be honest and open with the people of Siksika.

It isn’t your normal blockade, either. When First Nation’s Drum arrived, there was no sign of a set-up resorting to mindless protest, spectacle, or violence. Instead, what they had set up was a large white tipi bearing the flag of Siksika at its top. The shades of an overcast sunset edged towards the dark of night, and there was nothing but mindfulness exuding out of the people that were there. There was no anger. No radical attitudes. Not one sign of violence.

We were greeted by elder Wayne Leather. “We need the media to let everyone know what is really going on here,” he insisted, inviting us to warm ourselves inside the tipi.

We enter, finding a fire burning at its heart. A handful of community members are sitting inside in full respect to a story being told by Brian Little Chief. And so we sat, watching the fire, listening.

Instead of politics or overbearing opinions, truths of existence and ignitions towards purpose filled the storyline. Within traditional tales, Little Chief would repeat the importance of the connection we have with our culture. We are all here to regain what the western-inclined world that surrounds us has taken from us.

“We have to go back to the way we think,” Little Chief stresses. “A lot of these non-Natives, they don’t know—they don’t see—the patterns and the themes that we live in. And so, even our Chief and Council, they forget about the people.”

This is why the community is at odds with their leadership. They are not getting the solutions they need from their Chief, Council has not been taking matters seriously, and all the while, flood victims are still without a place to call home.

“You know, they listen to [western-minded] people who say ‘if you go this way, it is much cheaper’,” informs Little Chief. The $93 million settlement for flood repair is going towards housing developments for those without homes. Instead of asking for the input of the people, though, corners have been cut to satisfy capitalistic interest.

“You can’t just be building communities here. There’s elders that know; you should go to them and ask, ‘is it’s okay to build here?’ They’ll say ‘no, there’s burial grounds from way back.’ They don’t do any consulting, these people.” Absolutely no consultation. The reserve’s Chief and Council decided to make the decisions themselves. Now the building plans are nothing but a single blueprint for a single spot of land. In order to cut costs, there will be no variation, and forty-four of the exact same blueprint will be developed on a piece of land convenient to finances.

“In the past, our families lived close together. But because of the influence of non-Natives to our leadership on Chief and Council, and some of our Chief and Council not being raised in this traditional way, they get influenced,” continues Little Chief. “It may work out in mainstream society, but for us people we have a culture, we have our spiritual ways, and the reason families live apart is because it keeps everything calm and respectful.”

First Nations Drum tried contacting Chief & Council for comment (the secretary to tribal manager, Romeo Crow Chief), but with no luck for comment by press time.

The blockade will persist as long as the line of communication remains nonexistent between Siksika’s community and their leaders. Ben Crow Chief and many others will continue to urge their chief to be honest and open with the people of Siksika. Until then, animosity hangs in the air.

“To them, they think money is what is going to make Siksika thrive,”Ben Crow Chief shakes his head. “It’s the people that’s going to make Siksika thrive. It’s the community that’s going to make Siksika thrive. But all they see is dollar signs, ‘how much is Siksika gonna make?’” he pauses. “It’s the people that makes Siksika rich.”

REDx Talks 2015: Finding The Ability To Be

To be, or not to be? This is a question we constantly face within this society that surrounds us. Living in this world, existing as actors on its stage, we are encouraged to play a role that is anything but ourselves. “I should do this or that in order to appear to be like this or that” some might say. “If I don’t have this or that, I won’t ever amount to this or that.” And we worry, and we stress, and we strain.

We are told what success should look like, yet our standards of success are hardly based on our own perspectives. These standards are instead based on societal illusions that whirl around us, and our true selves dissolve, blurring within the peripherals of our vision. Instead, all we see is our society, and it always seems to work against our ability to be ourselves by forcing us to be that which we ourselves are not.

And when we realize this, we desire freedom. We desire to escape it, to rid ourselves of it. Yet, we cannot. And it grabs a hold of us tightly in its grip because it is what we were born into. It is what we have known our entire lives. It is convenient to remain within the mould. And so we are stuck, for the collective need for this and that and the desire for more and more hinders our ability to be free. It does not have to be like this, though.

RedX Talks pic web2Last month, solutions regarding straying from your identity, especially amongst indigenous people, were brought to light during the very first REDx Talks at Calgary’s Mount Royal University. Through it’s duration, some of Alberta’s indigenous leaders, academics, and creative thinkers discussed the beauty of their identity.

Existing in the same vein as TEDx Talks, REDx Talks, organized and curated by Cowboy Smithx, is a not-for-profit intellectual discussion which is meant to enlighten, inspire, and instill ideas within the minds of those who attend.

“I’ve spoken at TEDx Talks before,” says Ashley Callingbull-Burnham, current Mrs. Universe and one of this year’s speakers at REDx Talks. “They restrict you to things you can and cannot say. But with REDx Talks—and I really thank you, Cowboy—it lets us have this time to be very open and share as much as we possibly can! It is important for indigenous people to share their stories, and this is a great beginning to something that I think is going to be huge.”

From elder Dr. Leroy Little Bear, who deconstructed what a true nation is, to Chris Hsiung, who delved into the constructs of his documentary Elder In The Making, the conversation that transgressed through the afternoon (and well into the night) uncovered truths of the past and hopes for the future.

Coming to know these, it is only natural to ask how it is possible to thrive within the present? First Nations people have always struggled with never fitting into the mould. The thing is, though, we never were interested in even creating a mould in the first place. We ooze out from being jammed within such constrictions. We end up becoming seekers of truth, endeavouring to find our own purpose in this life. We create our own selves. We form one culture. We exist inside truth. What is more is that because First Nation’s people have cultivated such intricate belief systems, the truths that lie within them still resonates within us today. We are connected, and it is because we have our beliefs to fall back on that we can remain so close to those within our culture.

Ashley Callingbull-Burnham at REDx Talks Calgary, 2015.

Ashley Callingbull-Burnham at REDx Talks Calgary, 2015.

“For me, being a First Nation’s woman and coming from the background that I come from, people don’t expect me to succeed,” says Callingbull-Burnham. “People don’t expect me to be in the spotlight. People don’t expect me to be accomplished. I think this is a ridiculous stereotype. I’m going beyond that, though. I don’t care what people say about me. I don’t care what people say about my people. It’s not true. So I’m going to push myself in every direction that I think I want to go in, and I’m going to do well for myself by breaking barriers, breaking stereotypes, and breaking the mould. It’s inspiring other First Nations people to do the same, and so I don’t care what society says. I’m gonna do what I want. I’m going to do it, and I am going to succeed.” And it is this kind of power that is gained from believing in our culture. It is this kind of admirable resistance that sparks change. And, really, all it takes is finding the ability to just be yourself.

Sometimes we think too much. Sometimes we get stuck in our mind, and it feels like we are barely latching on to that which we call ourselves. We have to stay attached, though. The answer First Nations Drum uncovered during REDx Talks is simple: finding the ability to be is not only denying the convenience found in not being, but labouring against the harshest of barriers in order to let others know that it is okay to just be.

Armond Duck Chief: Taking It As Far As He Can

“Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams. Don’t give up on what you’re trying to achieve in life. You know, ya’ got big obstacles. All kindsa’ obstacles. But, as long as you keep the end result in mind, it can happen. It will happen.”

Pursuing passion. This is what fills singer/songwriter Armond Duck Chief’s entire life. “You just have to believe in yourself, and your abilities.”

Armond Duck Chief ~ “You just have to believe in yourself, and your abilities.”

Armond Duck Chief ~ “You just have to believe in yourself, and your abilities.”


Beginning to dabble around with the guitar at the age of 25, the artist has devoted fifteen-years to his already successful career in music. “With music,” he says. “I’ll take it as far as I can.” So far, he’s brought the air-waves two albums: Country Groove (2011) and The One (2014). His most recent album just received a 2015 Indigenous Music Award this past September for Best Country CD, as well as Best Indigenous Songwriter for his single of the same name “The One.”

Growing up on the rolling prairies of Siksika Nation, Duck Chief cultured an admiration for the roots of country-music at a young age. Twang filled his childhood homes. His aunts and uncles would play for him the likes of Waylon Jenning’s, George Jones, Hank Williams, and all of those timeless country classics.

“It’s what I grew up on, those old classics. I like the fiddle. I like the steel guitar,” he smiles. “It turned into something I really wanted to mimic, so that’s why I kept those instruments in my own stuff.”

Within the contours of his albums Country Groove and The One, Duck Chief ventures through the roots of classical-country. From swift-handed piano-key reveries to the strum’n’slide of fiddle strings, the bands compositional prowess completes Duck Chief’s self-written verses. The culmination is two collections of meaningful, put-on-repeat ballads that would make the likes of Jenning’s, Jones, and Williams proud.

“Country songs. They tell stories. I mean, I like all kinds of music; my iPod is full of all kindsa’ different genres. But country – well, it’s always country that kinda’ soothes my soul.”

I asked him about when he first started writing music.

“Before I started writing music, I was into pow-wow. My drum group and I, we did a lot of singing. We’d hit the road singin’ pow-wow songs on down the pow-wow trail. So, that kind of consumed my teenage years. And then I got into rodeo when I was 25.”

“When I first wrote a song ever, well, that was ‘Gold Buckle Dreams.’ At the time [the crew and I] were travelling all over the place rodeo-ing.”

“The timing and everything was there. One night, I just picked up the guitar and, you know, I got really into it. Writing songs,” he pauses. “And, you know, once I picked up the guitar and really applied myself, it was a lotta’ fun.” Having mastered the vocal-chord stretches found within powwow hymns, switching to a different style of music was easy for him.

“So I wrote ‘Gold Buckle Dreams,’ and it was just from what was going on at that particular moment in my life. From there, you know, I have written songs about loved ones that have passed on, and those are really LIFE songs. And then there’s the other songs that I’ve written, and a lot of them are, you know, songs I figured would sound good on a CD or in a bar, or somewhere like that. When I’m making music, I’m kinda’ just trying to pull something together.”

Earning him Best Indigenous Songwriter of the year, his most recent single “The One” much like “Country Groove” gears itself towards receiving radio play. The song opens with a single electric riff that prairie-plucks its way through the rest of the composition’s simplistic instrumentation. From here, the melody is carried by the concise syllabic flow Duck Chief incorporates within his lyrics, and it really does melt in your ears. While the three-minute radio-friendly track is not exactly profound, it’s an expression of loving life, pursuing love, and living his passion. For Duck Chief, he’s taking this passion as far as he can.

“With music? I’ll take it as far as I can. With rodeo? I’ll take it as far as I can. Whatever comes at me after that? I’ll take it in stride and see what I can do with it. For now, I’m really liking this music stuff.”

Interested in seeing how far Duck Chief will take his music? Keep yourself posted on his website or via Facebook. His songs are available through these links, and they can also be purchased on iTunes.


Best Country CD – Winner and Nominees

Armond Duck Chief | The One- Siksika, Ab (Winner)

Bob E. Lee West | The Tree- Beausejour, Mb

Jody Thomas Gaskin | Born On The Rezz- Winnipeg, Mb

Kimberley Dawn | Til The Cowboys Come Home- Winnipeg, Mb

Thelma Cheechoo | Stay- Yellowknife, Nwt


Best Indigenous Songwriter – Winner and Nominees

Armond Duck Chief | The One- Siksika, Ab (Winner)

Jason Burnstick & Nadine L’hirondelle | My Headstart Preschool- Peachlan, Bc

Joseph Strider | Seven Arrows- Colubia, Pennsylvania

Lightning Cloud | Meet Me At The Pow Wow- Studio City, California

Tomson Highway | Taansi, Nimiss- Gatineau, Qc

Will Belcourt And The Hollywood Indians | Burn It Down- Edmonton, Ab


Stampede Special: A Look Inside of The Indian Village

The 2015 Calgary Stampede was as busy as usual, enduring only a couple of rainstorms and a hailstorm over a ten-day span of blue-skies, giving the annual ingestion of sun-soaking rodeo enthusiasts a feel of pure Albertan weather. Of course, the Stampede attracts more than just cowboys and cowgirls. There are the full-house families that come to experience the heart of the west. There are music lovers that come to experience artists gracing various stages. There are visitors who love to indulge in the food, frequent the beer gardens, or test their gaming skills and get their fill of adrenaline at the midway. The international people, the local people—there’s thousands.

The Calgary Stampede Indian Village has participated since 1912. Five Treaty Seven First nations who camp together for the 10 day event include: Siksika, Kainai, Peigan, Tsuu Tina, and Nakoda. Photo Credit Kelly Many Guns

The Calgary Stampede Indian Village has participated since 1912. Five Treaty Seven First nations who camp together for the 10 day event include: Siksika, Kainai, Peigan, Tsuu Tina, and Nakoda. Photo Credit Kelly Many Guns

With the ability to attract such a wide-range of individuals, the Stampede is the perfect place to teach visitors about the culture that pumps through the heart of the west. For First Nations Drum, the most important of these teachings were provided by the Indian Village.

“For the general public, we are trying to give them an understanding of who we are,” says Gerald Sitting Eagle. Being an annual camper for the past thirty-five years, Sitting Eagle contributes his passion for Blackfoot culture by sharing it with those that give an ear to listen and learn. “With the Stampede, they allow us to teach what goes into a tipi and how to set up a tipi. And then we get to how to make and set up a fire, and how to cut and make dry meat,” he smiles. “We don’t share anything spiritual, but we do teach spectators about our traditions. So we don’t display any of our spiritual dances. Rather, we have a showcase of what you would see at any contemporary pow-wow,” says Sitting Eagle.

The Indian Village has many attractions and events throughout the course of a day. In the morning, the campers and interpretive representatives smudge in preparation for the energy that brims throughout the area. From there, interpreters begin hanging meat that dries over a hand-sparked fire, and elders join in to make traditional Saskatoon pemmican and bannock (on-a-stick).

Photo Credit Kelly Many Guns

Photo Credit Kelly Many Guns

The Indian Village offers a plethora of in-depth information from the campers and interpreters inside the village. “I always thank the Stampede board for the opportunity they have given us,” says camper Laura Sitting Eagle, wife of Gerald Sitting Eagle. “This is my way of teaching the kids, because they are going to go teach their children about our culture, our way of life. About respect and humbleness. Because of this, our culture will thrive. The Stampede gives us that chance to teach.”

I asked Laura if she could teach me about the tipis and their designs. “There’s three main levels of the tipi,” she starts. “The top part, you see, that one,” she points at a tipi nearby, “has circles. Those represent stars, and because there is seven on this one, it represents the seven brothers, or the big-dipper. We call it the seven-brothers, though,” she smiles. “And, you see, some of them have lines. And this may represent a rainbows or clouds.”

I pointed at one tipi design that had more circles than any of the others, and Laura explained, “That one represents hail, and there are ones that even represent storms. All of these have their own stories, and it is all dependent on the story behind the design. These can come from dreams or real-life experience.”

“The bottom part, you see, some of them have hills.” Laura showed the half circle designs. “If you take a look at the hills on the Stoney tipis, you may notice some have diamonds or half-diamonds. These represent the mountains and the foothills. Some have straight lines, and this represents the prairies or grasslands. And then there are designs that represent rocks or sand or forests.” I looked around at all the tipis and realized that every tipi is unique to the landscape of a person’s homeland.

“So, you see,” Laura continued, “the top part of the tipi gears towards the heavens. I call it Father Heaven. And the bottom part, it all gears towards Mother Earth.” It’s beautiful.

“Half-way up the tipi, you can see spiritual animals connected to the owners, and all of those have different stories. In the back, some of the tipis have a kind of cross, and this represents a butterfly which protects the tipi holder.” Sitting Eagle continued to go into detail about the intricacies of the spiritual aspect of the tipis, which I cannot share with you due to respect for cultural protocols.

In addition to all the hands-on informative opportunities, the Indian Village also has their own food outlet that feeds thousands of Stampede attendees every day: The Bannock Booth. “We get a lot of international tourists that love our bannock,” says 13-year supervisor Ruby Eagle Child. The Bannock Booth offers bannock made daily by women that have turned the simple mixture of flour, water, and baking powder into an art.

“Cooking is not easy,” explains Eagle Child. “Especially when you are deep-frying it, because you always need to make sure that the inside is cooked. So here, we try to make them golden brown as we can. But it’s always the baking powder you have to be careful about. If you don’t put enough baking powder, it’ll come out just flat.”

The Bannock Booth sells everything from bannock burgers, the Indian Taco, bannock in bulk, moose-ears (which is bannock rolled in cinnamon sugar), and plain bannock with jam. “Our biggest seller is the plain cheeseburger,” she says. “You know why? Because we soak it in gravy. Oh, it’s awesome. And that’s what a lot of people come back for here.”

Veering from capitalistic interest when it comes to the operation of the Bannock Booth, head cook Cherita Many Bears says that she loves seeing all of people that come to the Stampede from across the globe. “We meet a lot of people from Europe and overseas, and it’s pretty cool! Sometimes, the tourists, they come up to the window and they just want to talk. So we talk about how we make the bannock and other things, and they are usually the ones that end up buying a bunch of bannock,” grins Many Bears. “The other day, a man came and bought two bannock burgers, and he came back a couple hours later and said, ‘These are the best burgers I have ever tasted!’ And then he wanted another,” a big smile comes across her face. “So I’m proud.”

In 2016, the Indian Village will move to a new location on the Calgary Stampede grounds for the first time since the mid 1970’s. Along the Elbow River, 16 acres are being transformed into a beautiful new inner city park and gathering place. It is also the new home for the Aboriginal peoples’ programming and Indian Village during the Calgary Stampede, across from the relocated Kids’ Midway and Agriculture Discovery Zone. Two large green spaces will invite people from youth campus and all over Calgary for inspiration, learning, and entertainment. A blessing ceremony is being planned for late September for the new park. Photo Credit Calgary Stampede

In 2016, the Indian Village will move to a new location on the Calgary Stampede grounds for the first time since the mid 1970’s. Along the Elbow River, 16 acres are being transformed into a beautiful new inner city park and gathering place. It is also the new home for the Aboriginal peoples’ programming and Indian Village during the Calgary Stampede, across from the relocated Kids’ Midway and Agriculture Discovery Zone. Two large green spaces will invite people from youth campus and all over Calgary for inspiration, learning, and entertainment. A blessing ceremony is being planned for late September for the new park. Photo Credit Calgary Stampede

On the last day of the Stampede, the Indian Village took part in a closing ceremony paying their respects to the land that they have been using for well over a couple of decades. Despite the relationship that has been cultivated with the land, campers are optimistic about the move. “It’s going to be a bigger place. And, I know it’s going to be a beautiful place,” says Laura Sitting Eagle. “I can’t really say anything about how it’s going to be over there, but I’m trying to look at it as a positive move.”

Interested in checking out the innovation of the 2016 Indian Village? Mark your calendar for July 8th-17th next year, and come out and enjoy everything that the Calgary Stampede has to offer.