Îyârhe Nakoda princess, elder saddle up for 2024 Calgary Stampede

The 2024 Calgary Stampede is going to the Îyârhe Nakoda.

For the first time in 22 years, an Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda woman – Margaret Holloway – was selected as First Nations princess for the greatest outdoor show on Earth. Her uncle and former teacher, a cultural and language instructor at Mînî Thnî Community School and a teepee holder at the Stampede Elbow River Camp, is also featured front and centre in the event’s official poster distributed worldwide.

Duane Mark and his father’s old regalia, which his mother designed, are soon to be showcased globally on posters, fine art prints, t-shirts and keychains.

The Îyârhe Nakoda elder was flattered to be Calgary artist Lloyd Templeton’s muse in the event’s prestigious poster competition, which comes with a $10,000 scholarship. The recent Alberta University of the Arts graduate’s winning piece is based on a photograph of Mark riding in the Calgary Stampede parade.

“I thought that it was a beautiful painting. We didn’t realize that it would win,” said Mark. “But now that it has, my hope is that it will represent all Indigenous peoples in southern Alberta – the five tribes [of Treaty 7] and everywhere. Hopefully, it will inspire people, and perhaps, they can come visit me and us at the Stampede.”

Mark has long been a teepee holder at the event’s Elbow River Camp and often rode in the parade in the 1970s and 80s. It was a 2012 photo of Mark on horseback, however, that caught Templeton’s attention while looking through Stampede archives for inspiration.

The 22-year-old, who has competed in the poster competition twice before, already knew he wanted his painting to convey some of his fondest Stampede memories when he was a kid.

“I loved being a kid down at the parade. I loved being there and the visuals of horses riding through the city streets, it was just so spectacular and stuck with me,” he said. “I was looking through previous parade photos and I found that photo of Duane.

“Of course, first of all, I just liked the regalia he was wearing and his face – he’s got a great face to paint. He has very expressive eyes and I could see that kind of same love for the parade and a sense of excitement that I had myself as a viewer, in him.”

Templeton was connected with Mark and from January to September the two met several times at the Smitty’s in Mînî Thnî so Templeton could ensure details of Mark and his regalia were just so, but also to discuss creative process, traditional values and teachings.

Mark shared that in Îyârhe Nakoda culture, it is believed the creator can only hear prayers spoken in their language.

“Meeting with Duane, I got to learn not just about him but about the Stoney Nakoda culture as a whole and some of the values and beliefs, and that was really special. I grew a lot as a person through the process of this painting as well as an illustrator and painter,” said Templeton, who was inspired to ask Mark to name the piece in Stoney.

The two chose the title Wîchîspa Skadabi Odâginabi, which means Celebrating the Calgary Stampede.

“If you cut it down literally, it means something else, like the Stoney Nakoda people call the Stampede Wîchîspa Skadabi. Wîchîspa means Elbow, which is the Stoney name for Calgary,” said Mark.

“Skadabi literally means to play, but in this context, it’s meant to be a rodeo, a carnival or a gathering where people are playing and having some event.

“If we put it together, it represents Celebrating the Calgary Stampede.”

Sharing in the spotlight is Mark’s niece. Last month, Holloway, 22, was selected as First Nations princess of the upcoming Stampede.

It’s a role she’s delighted to have but doesn’t take lightly.

Calgary Stampede royalty includes the First Nations Princess and Stampede Princess. As ambassadors, they attend numerous events throughout the year, locally and globally, to share and celebrate culture and the Stampede’s western heritage.

“Being a Stoney Nakoda woman and stepping into this role knowing it’s been 22 years since we’ve had the influence of a Stoney Nakoda woman is an incredible feeling,” said Holloway.

“I want to teach our traditions and our culture that are unique to Treaty 7.”

When she was crowned in a ceremony in October, a blanket was placed over Holloway’s shoulders and she was “pushed forward,” literally.

“That signifies the start of my new journey in our Stoney culture. It’s little things like that I’m really excited to teach the world and to just be an amazing ambassador for the Calgary Stampede” she said.

Holloway, whose reign officially starts Jan. 1, 2024, has a long history with the outdoor show competing in youth events like meat cutting and teepee raising races, as well as volunteering.

Since Stampede began in 1912, her family has also had a teepee at the Elbow River Camp, formerly known as the Indian Village. Passed down from generations, her mother is now the family’s teepee owner.

“It’s been 22 years since the last time there was a Stoney Nakoda princess and I’m 22 years old,” said Holloway. “My mother is teepee owner for teepee 24 and I will be the princess for 2024, so I really feel like it’s a meant-to-be situation.”

Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Rocky Mountain Outlook