INDIAN. RELAY.: A photographic exhibition in Calgary 2019

June 03, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

EXHIBITION NOTES and DATES follow this post
This is the story of an old dog, a guy with an injury, and a fence…. The BraveSteven Wolf Tail Rider, Brave, Jockey, Athlete, Warrior, Chief, Son, Friend, Brother.

In March, 2018, big metal diggers came to tear down the old house next door. We weren’t sad to see it go, given an “interesting” tenant, who had, for the preceding two years, made our day-to-day tense and unpleasant. it was so bad, and the landlord so unwilling to act, we finally contacted a few developers to see if they'd be interested in purchasing the lot next door.  Wonder of wonders, within a month, a developer did buy the lot next door! When the sold sign went up three days after listing, we were thrilled. Two months later, said horrifying tenant boxed up his belongings and left.

The builder, Truman Homes, is very efficient with their projects. The home next door went from tear-down to ready-for-occupancy in just over four months.

Two days before the end of June, a crew of four men, accompanied by a lovely old dog, set up shop in our backyard to remove the old fence and began installing the new. This new fence was an omen of sorts; a definitive, solid barrier between the past and its difficulties and a new chapter.

The old dog lolled peacefully in the warm sun, enjoying the cool grass in the back yard. Eventually, I went out to bring him water, and to say hello to the crew. As I chatted to one of the men, I noticed he had an injury to his leg, and asked him how it had happened. “I came off a horse,” he explained, adding “At a race.” Intrigued, I asked what kind of racing, to which he replied, “Indian relay,”  and, “You should come tomorrow; we’re racing at Strathmore.”

 We did not know then how much this young man’s invitation to the relay would change our summer and our lives. We went, armed with cameras and a hope we’d have a chance to photograph our new friend. The atmosphere was electric, but as we were as yet uninitiated, we did not understand the excitement and intensity of this sport.  As the grandstand began to fill, we could feel anticipation building.

 On a whim, we asked the nearest official-looking person if we could cross the track and shoot from the infield. Yes, but hurry on; the horses and riders were coming in to the area in front of the grandstand.

 Races last a bare three minutes;  Four or five teams of three men with two stirred up and ready-to-run horses take their places in “boxes” delineated with flour lines whist the riders — braves, warriors, chiefs, and maiden racers — fight to keep their mounts held at the start line, waiting for the blast of the start horn. One hot second after that sound, the track is a furry of horseflesh, flying dirt, colour, heat, and screaming riders flashing by.

A bare minute later, they race full tilt towards the boxes, slowing at the last possible moment. The riders are in the air, flying off one still-running horse and bounding with astonishing strength and grace onto the next, then hell-bent-for-leather around the track again. Sweat and mud flying, they race into the boxes, and seconds later they’re off for the last round. Five heartbeats later they’re flying breakneck towards the finish line. The adrenaline is palpable.

We were hooked. In those three minutes,  we didn’t want to be anywhere else but at the relay for the rest of the summer.  We headed down to Kainai First Nation in early July for the rodeo and pow wow. To say I'd become a full-on relay groupie would be benign.

One afternoon, I was with a good friend, and was carrying on like a five-year-old at an amusement park when my friend casually interjected, "I know what your next project should be...." FLASH!!!

As an aside, in March of 2018, I had wrapped up the sixth year of a street photography project that had taken me and my colleague, Chris Tait, around the world. That project had morphed from an accidental one-year thing to a much longer project via a series of unanticipated events. We had decided, after our fifth year travelling, to have a retrospective in year six rather than travel, and to then retire that project. I was feeling quite adrift without a show to put up, so my friend's casual suggestion cemented immediately.

The following weekend, we were at Piikanni First Nation in Brocket, Alberta, and I asked our new friend and rider, Steven Wolf Tail, if he would be willing and comfortable to be the subject of this project. He was, and his parents were as well.

We followed Steven to several more races and then to Walla Walla Washington for the first ever international Championship Relay, where we were granted media access for the weekend.

We are beyond grateful to Steven, his mother Wyonah and his dad Irvin for letting us in to their lives, and to the competitors and people in the nations we've travelled to for their hospitality and friendship. It's been an unparalleled experience. We've learned so much this year.


EXHIBITIONS
Calgary Public Library, New Central Branch: Main floor, June and July 2019; Indigenous section
The Peanut Gallery, October and November 2019

Rosso Coffee Roasters: July and August 2020: Rosso Inglewood and Rosso Ramsay

We have been short-listed to Exhibit at the Prince Takamado Gallery, Canadian Embassy, Tokyo: Watch this space!

With our deep thanks to Steven Wolf Tail and his mother and father, Wyonah and Irv Wolf Tail and to the Canadian Indian Relay Racing Association (CIRRA). 

 

 


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