Calgary’s First Nations Princess
by Steve Hartridge | 14 August 2019
Visitors to this July’s Calgary Stampede (5-14) would have spotted the striking figure of the event’s First Nations Princess.
The honour this year went to 19-year-old Astokomii Smith, who was chosen to represent five of Southern Alberta’s indigenous nations – Kainai, Tsuut’ina, Stoney Nakoda, Siksika and Piikani – as well as the indigenous-themed Elbow River Camp located on the Stampede grounds.
The selection process was tough: over a two-week period Astokomii – whose name in Blackfoot translates to ‘Calling Thunder’ – took part in a contest which included public speaking, dancing, an exam on Treaty 7 (an agreement between the Canadian government and several indigenous tribes in southern Alberta) and the history of the Calgary Stampede. She also had to submit an essay on why she wanted to be the 2019 Calgary Stampede First Nations Princess.
Her mission statement is a heartfelt one: “I will strive to be a role model for the younger generation. I believe that our mental and physical health should be put first and that education is our new way of survival,” she said.
At Alberta’s much-loved annual Western themed event, Astokomii, a Fancy Shawl dancer from the Siksika First Nation, met with visitors from around the world to talk about the people, the animals, the land, the traditions and the values that make up the unique spirit of Canada’s west.
During Stampede week, Elbow River Camp provides the venue for each tribe to share part of their culture with the public on a specific day, comprising Tribe Days. The demonstrations include dancing, storytelling, meat cutting, beadwork and other traditions.
The camp’s 26 tipis each have a unique design on the outside and beadwork, buckskin outfits and artifacts are displayed on the inside. When visitors enter the camp, they can experience many important aspects of First Nations peoples, like interpretive programmes, flag raising, powwows, traditional storytelling and games.
And although the dust has now settled on the Stampede for another year Astokomii’s role, as an ambassador and role model, will continue throughout 2019.
She will make many appearances locally, nationally and internationally throughout her reign, educating those she meets about First Nations cultures and sharing her knowledge of Treaty 7, as well as attending many First Nation events, powwows, ceremonies and ‘honourings’ in Alberta.
First Nations experiences
Outside of Stampede Week, there are many opportunities for visitors to immerse themselves in First Nations culture.
For example, in Tipi Village at Blackfoot Crossing on the Siksika Nation, about 100km east of Calgary, they can enjoy a tipi sleepover and learn about survival skills, meat smoking and hide tanning.
The Glenbow Museum, in downtown Calgary, has a year-round exhibition about the Blackfoot people called Niitsitapiisini: Our Way of Life, where you can learn how the Blackfoot people live.
Or visit the site at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, where buffaloes were hunted and learn why they were so important to First Nations people.
Those looking to take home authentic, traditional native art, such as jewellery, moccasins and beadwork by local and Canadian artists. should visit Moonstone Creation in Inglewood, a Calgary neighbourhood. A family-run gallery and gift shop of curated and created native goods, Moonstone Creation also offers classes where you can learn traditional beadwork, dream catcher and moccasin making, porcupine quillwork and medicine wheel teaching.
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