'Better late than never,' Manitoba Stampede includes Indigenous space for 1st time in 55 years

'Better late than never,' Manitoba Stampede includes Indigenous space for 1st time in 55 years

For the first time in its 55-year history, the Manitoba Stampede has a dedicated space for Indigenous culture.

The Gathering of Nations area includes a small stage, arts and crafts tent as well as five teepees.

While the stampede previously included some Indigenous teachings and teepees  — this the first time the annual stampede has offered an Indigenous performance space and artisan area.

The Gathering of Nations space will be open throughout the stampede which runs until Sunday in Morris, Man.

Wearing blue and black costumes, a group of square dancers from Long Plain First Nation (called the Long Plain Lightning Steppers), all under age 13, were among the first performers to step onto Sweet Grass Stage on Saturday.

“It’s really good that they’re, I guess you could say, acknowledging us and we thank them for that,” said Amy Spence, 33, one of the dance troupe’s instructors.

“It’s really awesome that they’re doing it now. Better late than never,” she said.

20 years ago, a different town

For Del Assiniboine, 66, seeing Morris embrace Indigenous peoples is symbolic of progress in the small town.

Assiniboine grew up in foster care and the residential school system before joining the military where he served in the Canadian Armed Forces for 22 years. Assiniboine, who is Dakota, used to live in Morris and commuted to Winnipeg.

“Twenty years ago there was a different attitude here. I may have been the only brown person in town to own a house,” he said.

Assiniboine, now retired from the military, runs a drumming program for kids called the Spirit Horse Singers.

“We are quite proud to be a part of what’s going to happen here,” said Assiniboine.

“Today, you know it’s been a long time since I’ve come back, just the fact that we got an invitation to come and to share the teachings of the old people and the songs and to see what they’re setting up here. That’s good.”

Joe Legere selling his mother’s hand-made jewlery at the Gathering of Nations on July 21, 2018. (Laura Glowacki/CBC)

Inside the arts and crafts tent, Joe Legere and his father Alex Legere are among the handful of artisans selling Indigenous crafts including bee’s wax candles and leather goods.

Legere, who is Ojibway, sells his mother Ruby Leger’s colourful hand-beaded jewlery and embroidery work. Normally the father-son team set up shop at powwows or conventions. This is his first time at a rodeo.

“Everyone that we’ve met here is very inquisitive … it’s really nice to see,” he said. “We’ll be back for sure.”

The Gathering of Nations was created to increase the size of the stampede and make it more diverse, said Brian Wiebe, the Manitoba Stampede director of operations. Under the high noon sun, bleachers in front of Sweet Grass Stage were full with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous spectators. 

“Just being at the events you see the culture that’s come in and it’s been fabulous,” he said.

Tens of thousands of people attend the Manitoba Stampede every year. Between 3,000 and 4,000 spectators are expected to take seats at the grandstand alone to watch Saturday’s big events — bull riding and chuck wagon races. The Manitoba Stampede is the province’s only professional rodeo with prizes totalling more than $100,000.

Square dancers from Long Plain First Nation perform at the Manitoba Stampede on July 21, 2018. (Chris Stanton/CBC)

Published at Sat, 21 Jul 2018 18:09:08 -0400