This blog marks the seventh instalment of a monthly series about the 1919 Victory Stampede, which was held 100 years ago to commemorate the end of the Great War.
1919 was a critical moment in the historical evolution of Elbow River Camp as an iconic part of the Calgary Stampede.
The first Stampede in 1912 had been popular with First Nations people. Stampede founder Guy Weadick visited reserves to spread the word; Ben Calf Robe was one of the first people from Siksika to see the potential and encourage others to attend. Families from the Siksika, Piikani, Kainai, Tsuut’ina and Stoney Nakoda nations participated. Families from Siksika camped on Stampede Park. Dancers competed in Powwow in full regalia and 1,800 people led the Stampede Parade. Kainai cowboy Tom Three Persons won the Saddlebronc competition. The Stampede was a space where Indigenous peoples could freely celebrate their cultures. Reg Crowshoe, Piikani Nation Elder and current Elbow River Camp tipi holder, has said that, “the 1912 Calgary Stampede played an important role in supporting First Nations to preserve, protect and retain their culture … [which] almost disappeared after the signing of Treaty 7 in 1877.”
Tom Three Persons of the Kainai Nation won the 1912 Stampede Saddlebronc Competition.
However, in 1919 there was little guarantee that the same would happen again. Preserving Indigenous cultures was exactly the opposite of the Canadian government policy of cultural genocide. The Indian Act, signed in 1876 and regularly amended thereafter, prohibited traditional governance structures like Band Councils, forced Indigenous children to attend residential schools where they were systematically abused, required Indian Agents to issue passes in order for Indigenous peoples to leave reserves and outlawed religious ceremonies—a clause that was used to curtail Powwows.
The 1912 Stampede was so extraordinarily successful at including First Nations peoples as partners that the Indian Act was amended in 1914 to specifically outlaw participation in “dance, show, exhibition, performance, stampede or pageant” unless the local Indian Agent granted permission. “Stampede” was not a widely used term, so this amendment was unequivocally aimed at the Calgary Stampede.
Weadick was not deterred. As Historian Hugh Dempsey put it, Weadick, “looked for ways to get around the law, or, if necessary, to merely ignore it.” His answer was a slight of hand: the Stampede announced publically that Indigenous families would not be invited to the Stampede. Behind the scenes, Weadick worked to make sure that not only could they attend, but that they would be a main feature. One press release said, “Although they will not officially take part in the Stampede, yet their appearance in the coming celebration is necessary to make the event a complete success, as no showing where the wild life of the west is depicted would be complete unless they were present.”
Elbow River Camp, 1919
When the Stampede opened, the jig was up. In 1912, Elbow River Camp had been an organic creation, with families camping on Stampede Park while they participated. In 1919, the Camp was organized and intentional. The Calgary Herald understatedly said that the First Nations “encampment will doubtless prove not the least interesting of the many attractions provided during the week.”
Glenbow Archives NA-446-127 Chief Yellow Horse led the Calgary Stampede Parade with Guy Weadick. He wore a top hat with a yellow band and a military tunic.
Then, when the Parade took place on the 3rd day of Stampede, Weadick led the way with Chief Yellow Horse from Siksika by his side. The Herald reported that the Indigenous peoples, “were the feature which attracted the greatest attention…The chiefs were attired in their best regalia, and all carried their various badges of office.”
This popularity was in part because of the richness of Indigenous culture, and partly because Calgarians were certain that Indigenous peoples were a “fast fleeting civilization.” The Stampede was a place to see, perhaps one last time, Indigenous cultures. The Euro-centric world-view of people at the time led them to believe the paternalistic notion that they were doing the right thing by trying to assimilate Indigenous peoples into British-Canadian culture. The Herald made this abundantly clear when it wrote that,
“There will be some regret at the passing of the Indian in not his pristine picturesqueness, but the importance of making him a useful Canadian citizen will overshadow this. Alberta is justly proud of the record her Indians made in the late great war, and most of the Indians in this province have amply repaid the government’s interest in them by the way they responded to the call for the defence of the empire.”
Glenbow Archives NA-932-4 Joe Healy (R) Glenbow Archives NA-446-128.
and Weasel Fat (L), Kainai Nation Chief Big Bellow, Tsuut’ina Nation.
Yet, just like in 1912, participation in the 1919 Victory Stampede helped First Nations peoples retain their culture. It was a space that they could celebrate together and teach their youth. Moreover, participation in 1919 was a big step in developing a partnership between First Nations peoples and the Stampede. Elbow River Camp was a space where First Nations peoples could celebrate together, wear their regalia, dance in powwow and teach their youth. Over the next decade, the Canadian government would repeatedly attempt to end Indigenous participation in the Stampede, but the Camp endured. In the words of Cieran Starlight, 2018 First Nations Princess, Elbow River Camp, “has always been a safe space for us, and it has always been somewhere where we could practice our traditions, our dancing, our languages and know that people would be there to appreciate it.” Elbow River Camp is a place where we celebrate, share and learn about the rich cultures of the Siksika, Piikani, Kainai, Tsuut’ina and Stoney Nakoda nations.
 Susan Joudrey, Hidden Authority, Public Display: Representations of Firest Nations Peoples at the Calgary Stampede, 1912-1970 (PhD Dissertation, Carleton University, 2013), 161.
 Hugh Dempsey, “The Indians and the Stampede,” in Icon, Brand, Myth: The Calgary Stampede, ed. Max Foran (Edmonton: Athabasca Press, 2008), 56.
 Ibid., 57.
 Calgary Daily Herald, “Descendants of Indian Warriors Will Foregather.”
 Ibid., “With Stampede comes memories of Olden Days.”
 Ibid., “Descendants of Indian Warriors Will Foregather.”
 Western Legacy Awards, 2018 Chairman’s Award. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91Ami5fBKr4&list=PLE6I8IH5JtVA1e8zNIKDF3aC_lMeAllO0&index=14&t=0s