Indian Village at the Calgary Stampede a must-see

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, July 5, 2006

The Calgary Exhibition & Stampede, which bills itself as "the greatest outdoor show on earth," opens this Friday, running from July 7 to 16. The 10-day rodeo and exhibition is an annual feature of life here in the Bow River valley of southern Alberta, and for most of our local coffee companions there's nothing much I can add to their first-hand knowledge and enjoyment of this spectacular event.

But what about the many visitors to our town during the Stampede who will be staying in our motels and campgrounds or with friends and relatives? And what about our far-flung coffee companions who join us by e-mail every week – people like Raj in Mumbai, India; Meryl and Pieter in Pretoria, South Africa; Vroni and Peter in Bern, Switzerland; or Walter and Robin in the South Island of New Zealand?

I'm thinking they just might like a personal word from me about this show that set a new 10-day attendance record of 1,242,928 last year. Perhaps our overseas readers might even succumb to the temptation to visit us here some summer soon for a modern taste of the Old West, and while they're at it, join us for a face-to-face cup of dark roast here in Cochrane.

The Calgary Stampede has been an annual event since its beginning in 1912. It features one of the world's great rodeos, with prize money this year totaling $1.6 million. The chuckwagon races are a real crowd pleaser. The evening Grandstand show rivals Las Vegas. The state-of-the-art midway rides draw satisfied screams from cotton-candy-covered faces. Then there are the on-site arts and crafts displays, product and agricultural exhibits, and many other performances and competitions to entertain and inform.

Two features, in particular, have always held a special place in my memory: the Stampede Parade and the Indian Village.

The parade through downtown Calgary is the kick-off to the Stampede. This year an anticipated 350,000 spectators will gather along the 4.5 kilometre route for the July 7 morning parade featuring some 4,000 participants, 750 horses, and floats and marching bands galore.

Among the most colourful entries in the parade are the representatives from the five First Nations of Treaty Seven: the T'suu Tina (Sarcee), Siksika (Blackfoot), Pikuni (Peigan), Kainai (Blood) and Nakoda (Stoney), on horseback and in traditional regalia.

Which brings me to the second feature that has special meaning for me.

Along the bank of the Elbow River in the south section of the vast Stampede grounds is the Indian Village, a celebration of the historical and cultural importance of the Treaty 7 First Nations. This is a must-see.

The First Nations residents of the Stampede-long fully-functioning tepee encampment provide visitors a glimpse into traditional lifestyles. Tepee owners take turns hosting open houses in which visitors can meet elders and their families, listen to their stories, and examine their crafts and clothing up close.

The village also serves as the venue for competitions in traditional singing and dancing: the chicken dance, owl dance, fancy dance, etc., in which men's feathered bustles and ladies' fringed buckskin skirts move to the beat of drums against the sound of ankle bells and the occasional eagle-bone whistle. And you'll certainly not want to miss the amazing hoop dancing.

Getting hungry? The Indian Village offers two legendary traditional foods: bannock and frybread. You'll be back for seconds – especially, I think, for the mouthwatering hot frybread with jam.

The First Nations folks who host the village are there to answer your questions and in general do what they can to promote understanding and good relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. If you take photos, get the name and address of the person whose photo you took so you can send them a copy later. This simple gesture could be the beginning of a rewarding life-long friendship.

Of course, the way of life in the Stampede Indian Village is, in large measure, a celebration of earlier days. When the Stampede is over, the villagers – many of whom during the rest of the year are ranchers, students, educators, administrators, or wellness and resource workers– will take down their tepees, return to their modern homes in their various rural communities, and review the videos they themselves took during the encampment.

So, when you visit the Indian Village, smile! That just might be you your hosts are watching some cold winter night on their wide-screen TVs while thinking back to those warm summer days when they first met you and your friends at the 2006 Calgary Exhibition & Stampede.

© 2006 Warren Harbeck

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