For over 100 years, the five nations of Treaty 7 have camped in teepees beside the Elbow River during the Calgary Stampede in an area of the festival grounds called the Indian Village. But on Sunday, teepee owners and event officials announced that going forward, the site will be called “Elbow River Camp.”
“The name Indian Village is no longer accepted by some people,” said teepee owner Michael Meguinis in a press release, “so it is time for a change.”
From time immemorial Dene, Stoney and Blackfoot peoples have referred to the place where the city of Calgary stands as the place where the river bends—the elbow, hence the new name of the site.
“Back in the day, because of the three distinct languages, when you made a reference to where you were going, everyone would point to the elbow and everyone knew what that meant,” explained teepee owner Violet Meguinis at a press conference Sunday.
The Village was first conceived by Stampede founder Guy Weadick, an American rodeo promoter who wanted to include Indigenous Peoples in the event.
However, under the Indian Act Indigenous Peoples were barred from leaving their reserve without federal permission and likewise banned from putting their cultures on display. Nevertheless, Weadick lobbied politicians and succeeded. Indigenous Peoples “formed the bulk of the parade” at the inaugural Calgary Stampede in 1912, according to a Globe and Mail report from the time.
In a feature about the Stampede that appears in Canadian Geographic’s July/August 2018 issue, Blackfoot filmmaker Cowboy Smithx said he sees “[the Stampede] moving in the right direction, in regard to authentic inclusion of Indigenous voices.” However, Smithx expressed some discomfort with the concept of the Village.
“I still think the Indian Village concept is highly problematic,” he said. “It perpetuates antiquated notions and stereotypes we, as contemporary Indigenous artists, attempt to dismantle through our creative works. But I can see an evolution of the Indian Village coming within the next few years.”
The name change is a first step towards Smithx’s ideal evolution of Indigenous participation in the Stampede. Meanwhile, teepee owners are looking forward to returning to Elbow River Camp next year.
“Going forward, we see another millennium of keeping our tradition and our culture strong,” said Violet Meguinis.
Jenn Fast contributed reporting to this story.