This dissertation addresses the intersections of race, performance, and cultural representation in Canada’s prairie west by examining settler expectations of First Nations participation in the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede, 1912-1970. In North America, Aboriginal peoples have played prominent roles in historical pageants and Wild West shows, including the Calgary Stampede. These venues presented specific depictions of the North American indigenous population and reinforced constructed identities that were, at times, in conflict with one another. At the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede
members of the Siksika, Kainai, Piikani, Tsuu T’ina, and Stoney Nakoda nations worked with (and sometimes against) Stampede organizers, Indian Agents, and city officials to lend authenticity to the western narrative.
At the Stampede, First Nations’ participation was organized by public officials, businessmen, and Indian Agents to reflect (and repeat) specific ideas about the development of Calgary and the prairie west. Often “Indians” were situated in public events to draw a comparison between the progress of a modern city and the less civilized past. The depictions of Aboriginality on
Stampede ephemera, as well as the involvement and performance of members of the Treaty 7 Nations in parades, street displays, and the Indian Village, shaped the memory of audiences and other performers. Stampede organizers and city officials portrayed Calgary as a “civilized” space which was no longer “wild,” and required signifiers of the past, such as First Nations men and women, to represent what existed before. As mediums of memory, First Nations participants provided an “Other” against which “civilized” Calgarians could be compared.
Popular cultural events like the Stampede
replicated the power structures evident in what are considered more overt colonial contexts like the reserve system or residential schools. There was a strategic attempt by white organizers to control expressions of Aboriginal identity and culture at the Calgary Stampede by regulating what was appropriate and inappropriate. Furthermore, the Department of Indian Affairs was concerned with the representation of “Indian” at the Stampede and attempted to restrict First Nations involvement. However, the Stampede also provides an example of how members of the Treaty 7 Nations developed
approaches for operating within oppressive frameworks.