Calgary Stampede’s Elbow River Camp: ‘A place of grounding and connection’

Enbridge signs on for three years as presenting sponsor for iconic Stampede attraction

It was an act of defiance, devotion and diversity.

Back in 1912, when he organized the very first Calgary Stampede, Guy Weadick was adamant that representatives from the surrounding First Nations not only attend, but play a major role.

Weadick’s plans flew in the face of Canada’s punitive Indian Act, which at the time actively outlawed the practice of Indigenous cultures and traditions, and imposed hard labor or jail time on those who failed to comply.

Weadick’s courageous actions not only helped regional Indigenous culture to survive, but thrive. More than a century later, the Elbow River Camp (formerly Indian Village) is a cornerstone of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth—where the five Treaty 7 nations from southern Alberta are celebrated through a display of traditional dancing, singing, language, games, storytelling and culinary prowess.

At Enbridge, as we mark today's annual National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada, we see our relationships with Indigenous communities as mutually beneficial—economically, socially and culturally.

Building and maintaining sustainable relationships with Indigenous nations and groups—on projects such as Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement, and ultimately over the lifecycle of our assets—is essential to Enbridge’s continued success as a leading North American energy delivery company.

And starting with the 2019 Calgary Stampede, which kicks off Friday, July 5, Enbridge will be the presenting sponsor for the Stampede’s Elbow River Camp, where the five Treaty 7 nations—Kainai, Piikani, Siksika, Stoney Nakoda and Tsuut’ina—pitch a total of 26 teepees every July.

Jody Whitney is the daughter of former Tsuut’ina First Nation Chief Roy Whitney. For 15 years, she has also performed invaluable community engagement work for Enbridge, specializing in Indigenous relations.

With the 2019 Stampede fast approaching, Ms. Whitney offers her thoughts on Elbow River Camp, its cultural importance, and its role in the spotlight before hundreds of thousands of Stampede visitors every year.

Q: What did Elbow River Camp mean to you growing up?

The Indian Village was always a place of grounding and connection for me growing up. My friends and I would take a break from the midway and go for some traditional food and visiting with family.

It was the only place within the city of Calgary at the time where we felt true acceptance as Indigenous people.

Q: Is there an Elbow River Camp experience that stands out for you?

An experience that stands out for me was during the teepee competition when there was a tie between a Tsuut’ina and a Blackfoot (Siksika) teepee. Notwithstanding that we are all relatives, there remains a healthy competitive spirit amongst all the Treaty 7 Nations.

The teepee holders compete each year for an award based on how well kept the teepees are, how well they showcase the culture and general feedback from visitors. There are spot checks done by the judges so everyone must be prepared at all times.

The Tsuut’ina-owned teepee won out that year and I will never forget the pride that I felt as a Tsuut’ina member.

Q: What involvement did your family have with Elbow River Camp?

While my father, who was chief for many years, was heavily involved as a member of the Stampede board, we did not have direct participation in the Elbow River Camp.

We always visited extended family who were camped there and shared a meal and some laughs.

Q: How do you feel about Enbridge becoming the presenting sponsor of Elbow River Camp?

As an Enbridge employee and a member of the Tsuut’ina Nation, I take great pride in Enbridge’s sponsorship of the Elbow River Camp.

When I first joined Enbridge in March 2004, we had a very small team working to build relationships with Indigenous people and communities. As an Indigenous employee I have always been uplifted by the fact that Enbridge is a learning organization and has always wanted to do the right thing.

These two principles have led us to the opportunity today to honor Treaty 7 and all Indigenous Nations by being the sponsor of the Elbow River Camp. As a corporation, this effort speaks volumes to our commitment to reconciliation and truly setting a positive path forward in our relationships with Indigenous Nations.

(TOP PHOTO: Elbow River Camp has been a major part of the Calgary Stampede since the inception in 1912, offering visitors a chance to experience the traditions and culture of First Nations peoples from the Treaty 7 nations of Siksika, Piikani, Kainai, Stoney Nakoda, and Tsuut'ina firsthand.)