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A group of children sit cross-legged inside an authentic tipi at the Calgary Stampede’s Indian Village, listening inside the traditional shelter as an elder tells a story passed down from his ancestors. Outside the tipi, people are relaxing on the grass and enjoying a picnic of bannock, a traditional bread, while they wait for a dance competition to begin. Since the very beginning, Canada’s Indigenous people have played an integral role in the success of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. An all new Indian Village for the 2016 Calgary Exhibition and Stampede promises a better venue than ever before.

Creating a genuine Old West experience was Guy Weadick’s primary goal when he organized the very first Calgary Stampede in 1912. Having Alberta’s Indigenous people participate was a central part of Weadick’s plan, but in those days, getting Indigenous people to attend such an event was no easy task. The federal government had strict laws that required First Nations to stay on reserves. They were not allowed to leave the reserves without a government-issued travel pass, making it nearly impossible for them to camp or hold a traditional ceremony, known as a pow wow, at nearby cities.

After ensuring the desire of local Indiginous people to attend, Weadick and his supporters wrote letters to Ottawa and took all the steps necessary to make an Indian Village part of the first Stampede. “The Stampede has an amazing relationship with the First Nations and it goes all the way back to Guy Weadick,” explained Vanessa Stiffarm, the 2016 Calgary Stampede Indian Princess. “The Indian Village has always been a place where members of different tribes could camp together, socialize, speak their language, wear traditional clothing, dance and share their culture with visitors.” The new space allows 26 tipis from the Kainai, Tsuut’ina, Stoney Nakoda, Siksika and Piikani nations to be set up in a traditional circle in a park setting along the Elbow River -- a tranquil addition to Stampede Park. Though the term “Indian” is no longer used in Canadian vernacular, Indian Village elders voted to continue using the term “Indian Village” out of respect for Guy Weadick and the long history of the event.

The new venue features more green space, a bigger stage, enhanced programming and more food options than ever before. “After seeing all the work that has gone into the space, I can’t wait to experience it first-hand,” Stiffarm said. “There really aren’t many places where you can learn about the culture and traditions of Southern Alberta’s Indigenous people and that makes the Calgary Stampede’s Indian Village very special. It’s like stepping out of the city and into another world.”

Along with a bigger and better space, the Stampede has worked with tipi owners to come up with enhanced programming to showcase First Nations culture and traditions. “There will be more than 30 different performances, competitions and demonstrations over the course of the 10-day Stampede,” said Sarah Rivest, Park Development and Native Programming Co-ordinator. “It’s an opportunity for the Indian Village tipi owners and families to showcase their culture as they wish on their terms. One of my favourite events is the Kid’s Day Pow Wow Parade where First Nations children aged 6 and under dance and parade in their regalia in the grass of the tipi circle. It’s really inspiring to see youth and children carrying on their traditions.”

For over 100 years, the Indigenous people of Southern Alberta have had a home at the Calgary Stampede and the upgraded and enhanced venue ensures they will continue to play an important role in the future of the 10-day event. Somewhere Guy Weadick is smiling.

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