Canadian "Range Wars": Struggles over Indian Cowboys

Marilyn Burgess (Carleton University)

Abstract: Rodeo performances by Indian cowboys have historically meant "trouble" in the text of the popular history of western Canada. By analyzing the struggle over Indian rodeo at Banff Indian Days in the late 1960s, I show how some public performances can destabilize narratives of identity and essentialist categories of racial difference.

Résumé: Les numéros de rodéo des cowboys indiens ont souvent remis en cause le sens même de la culture populaire traditionnellement associée à l'Ouest canadien. En procédant à l'analyse du débat entourant la place du rodéo indien à Banff à la fin des année soixante, l'auteur montre comment certaines performances publiques peuvent déstabiliser les discours sur l'identité et bousculer les catégories essentialistes reliées à la construction de la différence raciale.

Banff Indian Days and the Calgary Stampede were two of the most important tourist festivals to emerge in the period immediately following the opening of the west to massive European settlement. Together they made sense of the brutal expropriation of Indian lands, as well as the destruction of colonial mixed race fur trade society, by evacuating recent historical realities and replacing them with a discourse of white European (and masculine) origins for both region and nation. Each was designed to attract Eastern Canadian and British money to the region--Banff Indian Days by attracting wealthy tourists for the CPR and the Calgary Stampede by attracting tourists and investors to Calgary--and each did so by organizing Native/non-Native relations in a manner fitting to these ends.

Both of these events also mark important moments of cultural transformation which are intimately connected to the political struggles they strive to flatten. The introduction of frontier folkore at the Calgary Stampede marks the transformation from established modes of representing the region as essentially British to the introduction of American styles of popular entertainment and frontier mythology. If transformations in the field of culture are at all possible, it is because popular cultural forms are not wholly coherent, but contain within them tensions and contradictions--discursive and performative elements which "trouble" the unitary logic of popular cultural practices--which can eventually surface as full-fledged transformations in themselves. To wit, at the 1912 Calgary Stampede a Blood Indian named Tom Three Persons won the only cowboy championship for Canada, "troubling" the unity of a folkloric discourse founded on racial difference marked by the figures of the white cowboy and the Indian "other." Two generations later, members of the Stoney band at Morley who traditionally performed in the Banff Indian Days event at Banff, refused to participate. This boycott took place in the late 1970s, in the context of a struggle over whether Indian rodeo should be included or excluded from the fair's activities.

Local festivals and fairs such as Banff Indian Days and the Calgary Stampede (as well as Edmonton's Klondike Days which is beyond the scope of this analysis) have done much to paint the character of the imagined communities they address. If all three events construct fundamentally the same national subjectivity in relationship to the same racial and sexual "other," each does so by telling a different story of origins for the place it "maps." In this paper, I examine how the public performance of past and present, national citizen subject and other, at these tourist events also offer important moments of resistance to the narratives of origins they construct.

The Stampede: Mapping Cowboy Country

Various forms of colonial and post-colonial1 propaganda, developmental and touristic, have sought to map their own meanings onto the geography of the west. Based on the shared premise that the western landscape was "unarticulated" before its colonial exploitation, they belie a race-blindness to the history of First Nations in the region. Over time, the representation of the land and its society produced by the promotion of tourism and by tourist practices has narrowed. The range of themes and stereotypes2 presented in western pageants in the U.S.A. and Canada was originally diverse. Native people were inscribed into the different narratives of warriors and war, of a pristine natural past, and more ambiguously, of "traditional" enemy turned benign neighbour to the cowboys. At the outset, they were given a share of the glory in early rodeo shows, as Indians, Mexicans, men, and women competed in the same games at the 1912 and 1919 Calgary Stampedes. However, by the end of World War II, appropriate participation at this festival was designated along racial and sexual lines: cowboys in the rodeo arena, "cowgirl" beauty queens at ceremonial places of honour, and Indians in the Stampede Parade.

In spite of these shifts and narrowings of meaning, one thing has remained constant: the "march of (western Canadian) history" which organizes the story of origins at various exhibition sites during "Stampede Week." The entire discursive and performative apparatus of the Calgary Stampede is a story of origins; mapping politically loaded meanings of the present into the past. The origin it recounts figures as a trope, a historical trajectory performed in the Stampede Opening Day Parade and the National Finals Rodeo, and repeated in the Stampede's promotional films and brochures, in the very organization of the grounds, and in the media coverage of the rodeo and festival.

In his analysis of Banff as a tourist site, Rob Shields suggests that,

A colonial mindset demands continual repetition, of the colonizing act and the emulation of the values founded not in the colonized land and topography but in the now-mythical topoi of Europe: Banff, Grampian, Edelweiss and so on. Signs and ritual actualize these pasts, making them present, making them real in the actions of remembering and repeating. (Shields, 1991, p. 25)

A similar ritualization of Euro-Canadian identity was effected at the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede through the agency of public performances: parades, rodeos, Indian Villages, street dancing, etc. Articulated at first to representations of the British Empire and technological progress, it was eventually fixed with the introduction of the Stampede's "wild west" theme in the binary opposition of two mutually exclusive "historical" moments: the "pre-historical" distant past of Native life, associated with nature and wholly pre-existing white colonialism, and the "historical" recent past and present of white habitation.

As I have shown elsewhere,3 numerous examples make clear that the pedagogy of origins narrated by events such as the Stampede Parade, street festival, exhibition site, and all accompanying publicity is a pilgrimage in time, across developmental historical stages. This "pilgrimage" begins with the Europeans' conquest of "nature" (the land, the First Nations) and is sometimes, if rarely, followed by the period of the fur trade, after which are celebrated the (almost simultaneous) establishment of law and order and the ranching industry, after which the latter is finally overwhelmed by the last historical stage of massive settlement and pioneer homesteading which culminate in the arrival into the present of technological modernity. Throughout, a limited number of large scale performative events serve to structure past and present. Indian people are highlighted in a special parade and at the Indian Village, both of which emphasize the passing of an ancient culture. The Stampede rodeo and chuckwagon breakfasts in the streets signal instead enduring foundational traditions of the colonizing white man, whose efforts have produced industrial society. The celebration of technological development in the form of theme exhibits has therefore always been a popular addition to the agricultural fair at the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. In the first decade of the show's existence aviation was celebrated, followed by racing cars in the 1930s and oil in the 1960s. In 1992, Canada's "achievements" in the "Gulf War" were displayed courtesy of the Armed Forces.

The Canadian Finals Rodeo, the central event of the Calgary Stampede, provides the foundational myth and original landscape for the development of western Canadian society. It is in fact comprised of a series of mimetic performances of cowboy movements on the legendary open cattle fields of Alberta. These rodeo performances produce the historical past of white colonization by charting the landscape of the Canadian cowboy while relegating Native meanings of the land to an inaccessible pre-history, of little relevance to the modern nation. As such, the rodeo arena is the most important site where Alberta's ranching "heritage" is performed, echoing the larger story of settlement, cowboy origins and regional identity told by the matrix of representations which encompass it and are used to "sell" the Stampede to tourists and local residents alike. The rodeo arena is therefore also an important site of contestation and struggle over the meanings of land and collective belongingness it produces.

Early Indian Cowboy Reversals

In this fashion, the most significant site of a number of performative destabilizations first occurred in 1912, at the moment of the establishing of the discourse which would strive to produce racial difference and racial unity for the nation through the categories of the cowboy and the Indian. In that year, Tom Three Persons, a Blood Indian from Cardston, Alberta, won the Bronc Riding championship at the Calgary Stampede, described as the highlight of the show for all Canadians (Gray, 1985, p. 37). The following passage from the Calgary Herald describes the event,

The last surprise came in the finals for the world's championship in the bucking horse riding. Each contestant had performed miraculously when the last name was called. It was Tom Three Persons, a blood [sic] Indian from Macleod, the only Canadian entry in the finals, who was to ride last. When his name was announced a great cheer broke from the stands. The announcer gave the information that Tom was to attempt to ride "Cyclone," the worst outlaw on the grounds. There were a few moments of apprehension for "Cyclone" had never been ridden and had thrown 129 riders.

The horse thrown to the ground, Tom jumped across him, placed his feet in the stirrups and with a wild "whoop" the black demon was up and away with the Indian rider. Bucking, twisting, swapping ends, and resorting to every artifice of the outlaw, "Cyclone" swept across the field. The Indian was jarred from one side of the saddle to the other, but as the crowds cheered themselves hoarse he settled each time into the saddle and waited for the next lurch or twist. His bucking unable to dislodge the redskin, "Cyclone" stood at rest and reared straight up. Once, it looked as though Tom was to follow the fate of his predecessors. He recovered rapidly and from that time forward "Cyclone" bucked till he was tired. The Indian had mastered him. The thousands created a pandemonium of applause that was not equalled all week. The Princess Patricia and the duchess, who were in the royal box, leaned far out over the railing, laughing and applauding vigorously at the Indians in the enclosure to the north. It was a thrilling moment and in it Tom Three Persons had captured the championship of the world for himself and for Canada. ("Hundred Thousand People . . . ," Calgary Herald, September 7, 1912, p. 7)

In the process of describing the event, Tom Three Persons moves out of the past to which he belongs as an "Indian," and moves firmly into the present as the writer and the Rodeo Games claim him for Canada, for this time of the nation, not an immemorial past.

In his discussion of Olympic Games, John MacAloon (1984) suggests that contestants represent themselves as individual participants, while the winners also represent their nation. Indeed, it is the winners' national anthems which are played during the awards ceremonies following each competition. In the passage above, we can see a similar identification of Three Persons as individual and as Canadian. There is a back and forth movement of identification between Tom Three Persons the Indian, the "redskin," and Tom Three Persons the representative of Canada, the only Canadian entry in the finals. Despite the fact that Tom Three Persons is never referred to as a cowboy in this passage, his performance in the rodeo arena, and his winning of the bucking horse riding championship position him as a cowboy within the logic of representation organized by the Stampede. No language exists to explain his feats in terms of special Indian skills. Although the passage uses familiar racist language to describe Three Persons, it is unable, in this context, to restrict him to the preferred location of the past. In the rodeo arena, the performances of cowboys occupy the position of the present in the historical progression represented by the Stampede. By winning in the rodeo arena, Tom Three Persons became Canada's only champion cowboy, producing a contradiction that undermined the construction of a unitary, racially "pure" identity for the region at the very moment of its first articulation.

The Stampede has however tried to return Tom Three Persons to the location of the past in at least one of their promotional films. In 1962, in the film Golden Jubilee 1962, a series of shots of the Indian Village--site of the timeless past of Indian traditions--depict traditional dancing, drumming and village life. Bert Cairns, narrator, comments, "It calls to mind Tom Three Persons," ignoring the instability of the cowboy as representation of a unitary identity by forcibly returning the cowboy heritage to a state of racial "purity." However, for Native people present in the stands when he won his championship, Tom Three Persons was unequivocally a hero, as he continues to be today.4

Once the ride was over, pandemonium broke out. Indians galloped around the arena chanting and whooping loudly while cowboys and spectators surged across the field to congratulate the rider....The man was a genuine Indian hero and for his efforts he received the title of World Saddle Bronc Rider, a thousand dollars cash, a medal, a saddle hand made in Billings, Montana, and a championship belt with a gold and silver mounted buckle. (Mikkelsen, 1987, p. 13)

After his performance, rodeo grew to be a popular sport among Native people in Alberta and the U.S.A. Champion cowboys like Tom Three Persons did much to encourage young boys to aspire to the life of a rodeo cowboy. Another famous Indian cowboy was Blood Indian Pete Bruised Head who competed in the 1920s. A competitor for 13 years, he was Canadian calf-roping champion in 1925 and 1927 (ibid., p. 15). By the 1960s Indians were involved in all aspects of rodeo, having organized their own intertribal rodeo association, the All Indian Rodeo Circuit, later named the All Indian Rodeo Association. Indians in the rodeo circuit were becoming cowboys, further troubling the text of regional origins produced by the Calgary Stampede as the following passage written by a Native journalist attests: "We raise our hats to these cowboys, the true sons of the west. We who sit on the corral fence with our big hats and soft hands admire you big brutes, even if you hit the dust" ("Blood Reserve," cited in Mikkelsen, 1987, p. 17). The phrase "true sons of the west" has the ring of a double entendre in this passage. Indeed, while cowboys may claim the title for themselves, any self- respecting Native Indian in the prairies knows the title historically belongs to him. If Indian cowboys had moved into the place of the region's white origins, they did so by meshing their own cultural narratives to the discourses on the cowboy. For example, following Blood Indian Jim Gladstone's address to his fans at a dance in his honour after winning the Calf Roping World Championship at the National Finals Rodeo, a member of the Blood tribe sang the flag song to honour a warrior who had returned from a victory (Mikkelsen, 1987, p. 17).

However, Indian rodeo was more than a wholesale appropriation of this white sport. In what was essentially the result of encounters between two cultures, "hybrid" practices arose. In the early 1970s, the Indian buffalo riding contest was introduced at the Calgary Stampede. As Mikkelsen explains, "Traditionally, this event would never have occurred two hundred years ago but it serves to enable Indians to symbolically show to the world that their lifestyle was once tied to that of the buffalo. Through this event, they maintain an identity to the buffalo, no matter how far out of context it may be" (ibid., p. 18). If, for white cowboys, rodeo is a reflection of their pioneer heritage and a display of their ability to conquer nature, Indians, according to Mikkelsen, "view rodeo as an opportunity to compete with the forces of nature, not to conquer them," in keeping with their heritage and religion (ibid., p. 19). Their actions in these rodeo sports also mimetically represent life on the range, but they are loaded with different meanings. In these games, it is an Indian gaze which authorizes the purview of the land. A land on which he belongs, and on which his traditional food source is privileged over the cowboy's cattle. By moving into the space of the present occupied by cowboys, Indians have not simply traded one identity or one narrative location for another, but have, by the performance of a "hybrid" culture, transformed that narrative, revealing the differences it works to suppress.

The Indian practice of rodeo-ing, though in some sense grafted onto the European-dominated spectacle of the Calgary Stampede, also echoes the all too easily forgotten non-white roots of cowboy-ing in Alberta. The first legendary Canadian cowboy was John Ware, an ex-slave from the U.S.A., who came to the region in 1883 and was soon acknowledged as the champion bronc buster of the region. He was known as, "a man of unquestioned honesty and agreeable nature...[who] boasted the rare distinction of never having been thrown from a horse. At roughriding and roping he was an expert" (Turner, 1950, p. 461). The circulation of stories about John Ware did not exist independently of other knowledge of racial difference on the ranch. The earliest ranchers in Canada were the North West Mounted Police who hired Native men to work for them and this racial diversity of early cowboy culture was a fact throughout the Americas. In the U.S.A., Black slaves tended cattle as early as the 1880s on the South Texas coast and after the American Civil War they faced less economic discrimination than their peers the Mexican vaqueros (Slatta, 1990, p. 168). The indigenous cultural contribution (to cowboy culture) was downplayed in South America also; for example in Argentina where "elite leaders sought to project an image of a white European population (ibid., p. 163)." If the discourses of popular regional identity could exist in spite of the legend of John Ware and the performative presence of Tom Three Persons, it is because, in the words of Ernest Renan, "the essence of a nation is that all individuals have many things in common, and also that they have forgotten many things" (cited in Bhabha, 1990, p. 11).

Banff Indian Days: The Discourse of Nature

The strength of the Stampede's story of origins is also materially secured by its articulation with other national foundation myths, and Banff Indian Days, held at Banff until the 1970s, is one such articulation which is important for two reasons. Firstly, because it situates the story of regional origins told at Calgary within a larger narrative of national foundations. This it does by its complicity with, rather than corroboration of, the story told at Banff. Secondly, it was at Banff Indian Days that the narratives told by both tourist events were once again seriously undermined, when participating Stoney cowboys refused to play Indian.

As Rob Shields illustrates, the connection between Stampede discourses of regional origins and the formation of the colonial nation also involved another binary relationship which subsumed the opposition white/non-white and around which national identity was constructed:

The difficult encounter with a native cultural other is collapsed into a natural other through a romantic division of the land into cultural and natural spaces-- spaces either to occupy or preserve. Three terms--colonial, native and natural--collapse into a stable pair comprised only of the European culture of the settlers and nature in the Canadian wilderness. (Shields, 1991, p. 23)

This binary relation of culture/nature, which evacuates the specificities of a colonial and post-colonial relationship between Natives and non-Natives, is therefore an organizing figure of the tourist discourses at Banff. Similar to the story told at the Calgary Stampede, Indian people at Banff Indian Days were portrayed as without history and without culture, belonging to the pre-colonized, pre-industrial past; nomadic wanderers in a mysteriously vanished space-time. This stereotyping of Indians was articulated by a discourse of "nature" deployed by the tourism department of the CPR, and later by the town's organizers and promoters of Banff Indian Days, both of which define the space of the west by the actions of European settlement. Originally conceived and promoted by the CPR, Indian Days were designed to entertain visitors staying an average of one week. After a highway was laid through Banff in 1962, making the area accessible to automobile travellers staying as little as one day, the CPR lost interest in Indian Days, which were designed to entertain visitors staying an average of one week, leaving the town's residents to finance the yearly event.

Shields argues that the area on which the town of Banff is situated was "respatialized" by practices of naming. As he explains, European colonists arriving at Banff celebrated, and continue to celebrate their European origins, disavowing their appropriation of land occupied by a number of nations, a long-standing homeland for some, and refuge from American wars and Canadian expansion for others.

The settlers attempted to simulate Europe, inscribing a European past on a Canadian present, a practice which continues to present problems for the resolution of distinctly Canadian problems concerning geographically and culturally contested terrain. Banff can serve as a metaphor for the Canadian condition: the preemptory Canadian self of the present clings to an image of a European past (or an ideal future) and refuses to confront the violence and paradox of its own making. (Ibid., p. 26)

The facility with which these "respatializations" were produced is rooted in the representation of the area and its inhabitants as "nature," a clean slate of sorts on which can be inscribed a European heritage. In other words, the origins signalled at Banff are not North American, but European, made possible by the construction of the new territory as simply "nature." Indian Days at Banff celebrate the same historical progression made popular by the Stampede when the festival markets the experience of "timelessness" in the form of Mountains and their "natural inhabitants," Native people. The Calgary Stampede also refuses to confront the violence of the region's past, primarily by a similar strategy of disavowing the historical confrontation of civilizations which produced our contemporary historical moment.

The representation of Native people as either "pre-historical" at the Calgary Stampede or as "natural" at Banff Indian Days positions them outside the time of the nation, and thus secures the undifferentiated "unity" of these discourses of national identity. The discourse of "nature" at Banff conceals the historical threat that different Plains nations posed to European and later Dominion government plans to expand into the western territory. As such, its popular representations of the region, produced to "sell" Banff to Canada and the world, forcefully repress knowledges of difference and of both historic and contemporary multi-cultural and multi-racial societies in the area.

Indian Cowboys: Moving into the Present Tense

This discourse depends for its credibility on the public performance of the narrative of nation it articulates. In other words, in order to "work," the discourse of nature requires that Indian people "play" at being Indian. At Banff, these performances were, for a time at least, secured at the cost of providing visiting members of the various nearby reservations with a rodeo. Although their origins are unclear, the Indian rodeos held as part of Banff Indian Days until their demise always had the potential to seriously undermine the narrative location of Indian people, associated with animals and the landscape, as outside the nation's time. The Indian rodeo held at Banff Indian Days signalled the ambivalence with which the discourse of nature was deployed, a "weakness" which in turn made the surfacing of repressed tensions possible in the late 1970s.

As Benedict Anderson has shown with respect to the origins of national consciousness, "from the start the nation was conceived in language, not in blood, and one could be `invited into' the imagined community" (Anderson, 1983, p. 133). For Native people at Banff, the inclusion of cowboy sports in a festival designed to secure Indian people in the position of the timeless exotic, constituted an ambivalent `invitation' which has most recently been challenged in the courts, in the media, and at tourist festivals like the ones described here.

The existence of Indian rodeo was always problematic for Banff Indian Days, for performance in rodeo is at odds with the representation of nature the festival strove to construct. It was, however, enormously popular with Stoney men who also particpated in other rodeos, including the Calgary Stampede. In Homi Bhabha's discussion of post-colonial narratives of nation, he identifies the "margin" as a site of resistance which destabilizes the fixity of representations of national identity (Bhabha, 1990). Deeply disruptive of both the "time of the nation, and the "space" of its performance, it is the site where cultural difference is spoken. If the notion of the displacement of the non-unity of the nation's contemporary differences raises again Gayatri Spivak's question, "Can the subaltern speak?" (Spivak, 1984), Bhabha's theory of a performative "space" articulating the voices in the margin suggests that yes, Indian cowboys, as subalterns, might speak from the rodeo arena, re-articulating marginal discourses to the national narrative.

The binary division, established by both the Calgary Stampede and CPR publicity about Banff National Park (the first to offer "Banff Indian Days" to its travellers) between cowboys who compete in contests of conquest over nature and Indians who are nature, is upset by the figure of the Indian cowboy, just as the timeless past of Native people is challenged by Indian cowboy performances in locations reserved for actors belonging to the present.

Rodeo in Dispute at Banff Indian Days

In the late 1960s, in what Michel Foucault has called a "return of local knowledge" (Foucault, 1980, p. 81), a dispute over the place of rodeo at Banff Indian Days took place between the Stoney Indians at Morely and the organizers of the festival in the town of Banff; a dispute which most visibly shows up the contradictions and struggles over the performance of a historical "progression" which excludes Indian people. In this dispute, the "immediate historical contents" (ibid.) of Indian cultures and political necessities emerged to challenge, once and for all (at Banff, at least) the necessity of performing the narrative charade of Indian exoticism and timelessness. These historical contents, as Foucault calls them, were of course, the local history of cultural change and exchange between white and Native, as well as the local history of domination, both of them instrumental in the popularization of Indian rodeo, itself a practice as old as cowboy rodeo in Canada.

While the "traditional" Native spectacles--parades in historical dress, the Indian Village and Indian races--were popular with visitors, the rodeo was less so, though it was the highlight for many of the Stoneys who made the trek to Banff each year. By the 1960s, the rodeo had become more important, its competitors having stronger ties to the Stampede at Calgary (Whyte, 1985). A series of disputes, primarily over the place of rodeo at Banff Indian Days, between the Stoneys at Morely and the festival's organizers which occurred in the 1970s led to the demise of the festival. The town's organizers argued that the rodeo was too costly and that tourists had little interest in it. In 1970, the town decided not to stage a rodeo at all in an effort to cut costs. The Stoneys retaliated the following year by boycotting the event, exhorting neighbouring bands called upon to replace them to do the same (Parker, 1990). A compromise was reached temporarily and for a year prior to the cancellation of the rodeo, the Banff committee ran the cultural events while the Stoneys took care of the rodeo (Mullin, August 15, 1966).

The early 1970s were a time of rising political consciousness for Native people. Many Stoneys saw Indian Days as an exploitative spectacle with themselves on display. Townspeople expressed their dismay with this attitude, as did Claude Brewster, a prominent outfitter in the area and chief organizer of Indian Days until 1968, when he observed that "most Indians today prefer to be cowboys" (cited in Whyte, 1985, p. 78). As if to emphasize the fact that the dispute engaged the different locations of whites and Natives across a divide assigning historicity to one party and its absence to the other, American Indian Movement supporters who came to protest the exploitation of Native people at the 1975 Indian days dressed, as do all Indian cowboys, in the familiar dress of cowboys. It is this knowledge that "playing" Indian would never admit Indian people into the political present, coupled with the feeling of having been exploited, which eventually led to the boycotting and demise of the Banff 's tourist spectacular. The demise of Indian Days was invariably blamed on the Indians for being too numerous, for being too lazy, or for being too interested in rodeo instead of the non-Native crowd pleasers (Mullin, 1966; Kennedy, August 7, 1968; and "Indian Days Head . . . ," Calgary Herald, August 17, 1971).

The dispute was essentially over representation. The town wanted to contain the spectacle to a celebration of a long-lost past, consistent with other tourism promises of a discourse of nature to which Native people belonged, uncontaminated by European cultures and technologies. Tellingly, Jon Whyte, member of a prominent Banff family involved in the management of the Whyte Museum and author of a book about Banff area Native people, wrote the following words in response to the demise of Indian Days. "The landscape has lost a human element it harboured for many centuries" (Whyte, 1985, p. 80). Of course, all the landscape lost was the performance of Indian-ness provided by local band members. Indian people continue, as in the past, to occupy the land, only they no longer do so in the field of vision of the town's tourists. The loss that Whyte laments is the loss of Indians as tourist objects, performative signifiers of one of the region's most popular narratives of nationhood.

The only position made available for the constitution of the masculine citizen-subject by the popular discourses circulated at Banff Indian Days and at the Calgary Stampede, is that occupied by the cowboy--a trail rider at Banff, a rodeo star at Calgary. And this cowboy is constituted in relation to his racial "other," stranded out of time, the Indian. Hence the "troubling" potential of an Indian rodeo at Banff. The Indian cowboy performs from the location of subjugated knowledges. His performance, however, is a hybrid one. That is to say that his performance of rodeo is a marginal performance, claimed by Banff Indian Days organizers to be insignificant and unimportant to the narrative of place suggested by their festival. Nevertheless, the performance of Indian rodeo on a site spatialized as nature, effectively troubles the unity of the narrative of nation produced by the repetition of popular discourses on the Canadian west which depend on the disavowal of cultural change and exchange between previously existing Native nations and newly arrived Europeans. The struggle over social subjectivity represented by the willful production of an exclusionary regional folklore erupted finally in Indian demands to be considered as cowboys: as members of the present, culturally and politically. This demand was signified by their performative occupation of the place of the region's citizen-subject, the cowboy.

Indian cowboys and the Indian rodeo at Banff sent echoes reverberating throughout the story of cowboy origins, echoes which disturbed its coherence and fixity, by calling attention to its qualities of performance, spectacularity and illusion, each of which is necessary for the creation and re-creation of the past in the present. At the Calgary Stampede as well as at Banff Indian Days, the performance of a regional-national identity constitutes that identity. It is for this reason that the legend of John Ware and the performances of Tom Three Persons and of Indian rodeos at Banff have proved unsettling. By insisting on the location of Indian men in the present, they undermine the mythology of the west rehearsed in the endless repetition of a historical progression which claims a white cowboy origin for the region by relegating Indian histories to the "pre-historic" and ahistorical past of nature.


At the Calgary Stampede, the parade, the layout of the fairgrounds, the rodeo, and the media all lay out a particular "pedagogy" of regional origins, articulated to national narratives of identity. In the story as they tell it, Indian people were virtually extinct at the time of the arrival of white settlers. The first of the latter were the cowboys, who arrived together with the fur traders and the North West Mounted Police. The cowboys built up the nation, making it prosper for the successive generations of their offspring. At Banff, the out-of-time-ness of Indian people is articulated to a nationalist discourse which represents the nation as a vast wilderness, to be enjoyed both for its sublime beauty and for the raw materials which can be extracted from it. Within this narrative, Indian people are not extinct, but they live outside culture, in their "natural" setting, to be witnessed by visiting tourists. Significantly, while most performances at the Stampede and Banff Indian Days corroborate this "history," the performances by Indian cowboys in the rodeo arenas at Calgary and at Banff have since the beginnings of these exhibitions existed as powerful (because visible and tangible) contradictions to it. Contrary to the narratives of white origins told by each tourist event, rodeo performances by Indian cowboys insist on the multi-racial roots of ranch culture. The first Canadian champion cowboy was a Blood Indian, and the dispute over the racist representation of Indian people at Banff Indian Days took the form of a dispute over the legitimacy of incorporating an Indian rodeo into that event. Both of these performative events signalled the return of local knowledges, knowledges of racial difference and diversity which are excessive to the narrative of origins repeated by the discourse of tourism in the region. Excessive and uncontainable, these hybrid, marginal and local performances constitute a space for imagining a different citizen-subject, one crisscrossed by difference, and by the knowledge of violence and domination which has shaped our colonial and post-colonial experience of nationhood.


It has been suggested to me recently that while the term post-colonial may adequately represent the administrative organization of Canada, Native people living within her borders continue to suffer under a colonial form of subjugation. I use the term post-colonial here to refer to the non-Native governing institutions whose policy initiatives with regard to the west have shaped economic and social relations in the region.
I am using the concept stereotype here to refer to a limited and repeated figuring of identity. See also Perkins, 1979.
See my doctoral dissertation entitled Dark Devils in the Saddle: A Discursive Analysis of Tourist and Entertainment Formations Constituting Western Canadian Regional Identity.
See, for example, My Name is Tom Three Persons, exhibition held in Edmonton by the Alberta Society of Artists, 1992, featuring a group show of visual works and the poetry of Yvonne Trainer.


Anderson, Benedict. (1983). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London: Verso.

Bhabha, Homi K. (Ed.). (1990a). Nation and narration. London: Routledge.

Bhabha, Homi K. (1990b). DissemiNation: Time, narrative, and the margins of the modern nation. In Homi K. Bhabha (Ed.), Nation and narration (pp. 291-322). London: Routledge.

Blood Reserve. (1964, July). Sun Dance Echo, 1(5). Cited in Mikkelsen, 1987.

Foucault, Michel. (1980). Two lectures. In Colin Gordon (Ed.), Power/Knowledge: Selected interview and other writings, 1972-1977 (pp. 78-108). New York: Pantheon.

Gray, James H. (1985). A brand of its own: The 100 year history of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books.

Hundred Thousand People Witnessed Stampede Events. (1912, September 7). Calgary Herald.

Indian Days head denies exploitation. (1971, August 17). Calgary Herald.

Kennedy, Fred. (1968, August 7). Don't let Banff Indian days die. The Albertan.

MacAloon, John J. (1984). Olympic Games and the theory of spectacle in modern societies. In Rite, drama, festival, spectacle (pp. 241-280). Philadelphia: ISHI.

Mikkelsen, Glen. (1987, Summer). Indians and rodeo. Alberta History, 35(3), 13-19.

Mullin, Barry. (1966, August 15). Banff pow-wow called on Indian Days beefs. The Albertan.

Parker, Patricia. (1990). The Feather and the drum: The history of Banff Indian Days 1889-1978. Calgary: Consolidated Communications.

Perkins, Tessa. Rethinking Stereotypes. In M. Barret, P. Corrigan, A. Kuhn, & J. Wolf (Eds.), Ideology and Cultural Production (pp. 135-159). New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979.

Shields, Rob. (1991). Imaginary sites. In Between views (pp. 22-26). Banff: The Banff Center for the Arts.

Slatta, Richard. (1990). Cowboys of the Americas. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. (1984). Can the subaltern speak? In Cary Nelson & Lawrence Grossberg (Eds.), Marxism and the interpretation of culture (pp. 271-313). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Turner, John Peter. (1950). The North-West Mounted Police, 1873-1893. Ottawa: King's Printer.

Whyte, Jon. (1985). Indians in the Rockies. Banff: Altitude Publishing.

  •  Announcements
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Current Issue
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Thesis Abstracts
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo

We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.