Calgary Stampede changes ‘Indian Village’ name to Elbow River Camp

Resolute, Wikimedia Commons
Teepees set up at the Calgary Stampede's Indian Village in 2011. Resolute, Wikimedia Commons

For more than 100 years, the Calgary Stampede's showcase of Indigenous culture has been named the "Indian Village." No longer.

On Sunday, July 15, on the last day of the Stampede, it was announced that the showcase will be renamed Elbow River Camp. The showcase site is located on the banks of the Elbow River, featuring teepees, pow wows, arts and crafts, and traditional storytelling.

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Since 1912, the five nations of the Treaty 7 — the Tsuut'ina, Piikani, Stoney, Kainai and Siksika — have participated in the event.

There has been a strong desire to rename the showcase for decades, as the term "Indian" is an offensive term for Indigenous peoples — the misnomer was applied by European explorers who arrived in North America but thought they had landed on the Indian subcontinent.

The Stampede "Indian Princess" ambassador title will also be renamed.

"Personally, I’ve experienced a lot of confrontation around the name, and it’s become very hard for me to explain it in a way that people will understand,” Cieran Starlight, 2018's Tsuut'ina Nation Indian Princess, told The Globe and Mail.

Why did the name change not happen earlier?

Indigenous teepee owners voted on the name change on Tuesday, July 10, and their decision was supported by Stampede officials.

One of the reasons why the teepee owners waited so long to change the showcase's name — many of whom are descendants of the families who originally set up camp on the Elbow River site — is due to name recognition.

"Coming from a tepee-owning family, we know the name Indian Village — and that’s something that’s really hard for us to let go of," Starlight added.

Noran Calf Robe, whose grandfather Ben was camped on the site back in 1912 and was a famous Blackfoot elder and interpreter, told the Globe that he welcomes the name change.

"We’re not Indians, but we’ve been branded with that name. Christopher Columbus got lost."

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Indian Village: 1912-2018

When the Stampede's Indian Village was first established in 1912, six tribes and hundreds of Indigenous peoples camped on the site and participated in the event's parade, competed in sporting events, and also entertained crowds with traditional dances in their finest regalia.

Guy Weadick, the Stampede's founder, pressured the federal government to allow Indigenous tribes to participate in the event.

Tom Three Persons of the Kainai nation was a breakout star in the first Stampede, successfully riding a notorious horse named "Cyclone" that had thrown off 100 riders during its career.

In 1914, as a response to positive reception to Indigenous participation, the federal government made it illegal for Indigenous peoples to attend in fairs or parades without permission from the local Indian Agent.

In 1919, Weadick successfully fought the ban, and Indigenous participation began once again, and despite 13 years of government resistance, the Indian Village became a staple showcase at the Stampede.

Conflict between Indigenous participants and Stampede organizers over the years — including the original site being located on grounds prone to flooding, low appearance fees, and lack of inclusion on related committees.

However, throughout most its history, the Indian Village has been enthusiastically supported by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous attendees and participants.

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About Robert J. Ballantyne

Robert Ballantyne is Artsculture's Creative Director. Previously, he was a journalist at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star and other media outlets.

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