Story by Jody Robbins
CALGARY, ALBERTA — Amelia Crowshoe isn’t your typical princess. No one waits on her hand and foot, there are no servants doing her bidding, and she certainly doesn’t get to many balls, unless you’re counting hoedowns and Pow Wows, in which case there are plenty.
As the Stampede Indian Princess, Amelia has made more than 300 public appearances, but her primary role is as an educator of First Nations culture, the 2012 Calgary Stampede, and its Indian Village. But not just anyone can pull off this kind of job.
Representing the mostly Blackfoot Nation tribes of Treaty 7 (Siksika, Tsuu T’ina, Stoney, Piikani and Kainai Nations), Amelia is a University of Calgary graduate and received the highest points in horsemanship, public speaking, and native dance, in order to be crowned the Centennial Indian Princess. Her Blackfoot name is Misimmemonisakii, which means Long Time Otter Woman.
Leading the Grand Entry before the rodeo, and addressing the crowds of 30,000 people at the Grandstand Show each evening, is what gets this member of the Piikani Tribe jazzed.
“I can’t wait to feel the rush, going by as fast as I can on my horse,” she confesses.
All in the Family
Having never missed a Stampede in her 24 years, being crowned Indian Princess is as much an honour for Amelia’s family (who have participated in Indian Village for the past five generations) as it is for her.
“My family is just as excited as I am. My grandparents and my mom raised me together, so it’s not just me celebrating, we’re doing it together,” Amelia says.
With so much to see and do during the Stampede, Princess Amelia has been recommending that visitors not miss out on her base during the 10 day event, which wraps up its 100th year on Sunday.
“What truly makes the Stampede an international event, is Indian Village. It’s a big part of Western culture and not a lot of people have seen our beadwork or the inside of a tipi,” she says.
The Interpretive Program within Indian Village offers a glimpse into First Nations culture. You’ll want to spot anyone sporting a red vest in the Village. They are the tipi owners and will show you anything you’d like to know about their homes in the park during Stampede. You’ll learn a range of details, from how to dry meat to what the decorative designs on the tipis signify.
“We want to help you see into our culture and breakdown the myths,” explains Amelia. “People are self-conscious about offending us, but we prefer you ask about what you’re curious about, so we can explain our culture.”
Amelia points out that the names “Indian Princess” and “Indian Village” remain part of the Stampede because the First Nations chiefs felt it was a tradition worth keeping during this event, “even though their are more culturally acceptable names now.”
On the Road
This past year, the Indian Princess program went international. As the first Indian Princess to travel overseas, Amelia visited Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai, China, to showcase what Alberta and the Stampede have to offer.
So how did the Chinese react to someone (who they thought was Asian) as she jingle danced her way along the Great Wall?
“They were unsure of what to expect. They have ideas in their mind about First Nations culture and that’s tied closely with wild west, but then when they saw me and we built a conversation, I was able to show them we actually exist, and we’re real, modern people.”
Like most princesses, Amelia just doesn’t roll out of bed looking glamourous. Though it takes only about 30 minutes to put herself together for a Pow Wow, the Indian Princess routine is significantly longer. First come the braids, then the braid holders. Bead work goes on next, before it’s all tied up with white buckskin ties.
“If you use buckskin, nothing will ever slip off,” she advises.
Topping it all off is an intricately detailed, one-of-a-kind piece of art that sits atop her head. The custom-designed, handmade Indian Princess crown incorporates beadwork into the Stampede Centennial logo that reflect the First Nations of Treaty 7.
As for what it’s like travelling in a posse of white cowgirl princesses, Amelia likens it to herding cats.
“We go everywhere. We have such a great connection. We’re sharing a once-in-a-lifetime moment, so it’s not work for us. When you’re having a bad day these girls support you, as they know what you’re going though. I miss them when we’re not together.”
Just don’t expect this royal to ride off into the sunset when her reign is up this autumn.
“I’d like to go back and work on the reservation and eventually go to law school,” says the Stampede’s most recognized ambassador.