Once upon a time, there was an old dog and a new fence...

February 03, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Steven Wolf TailSteven Wolf Tail; Strathmore AB, July 1st 2018 post race. Back in 2018, following two years living beside the worst neighbour in the world, a new home had been built beside us - the old 1950s duplex and it's contents, including said terrible neihbour, removed. In the last few days of June that year, a crew turned up to build a new fence between the two properties; four men and an old dog. 

As the day was warm and they were going to be there for a while, I went out to offer water for men and dogs. My dog followed me out, and a conversation ensued about dogs and dads - my dog and one of the crew members coming from the same First Nation down south - and about one young man's knee injury. He said he'd come off a horse during a relay race, a sport I'd never heard of. He had to get back to the fencing, but invited us out to Strathmore over the weekend to see this relay. 

On arriving at the rodeo grounds, armed with our usual kit of cameras and long lenses, we asked if we could cross the track and shoot from the infield. "No problem", someone said, "just watch out for the horses." 

We had zero clue what we were about to see. ZEEE RO. We didn't know about the regalia, the team colours, the war paint, or how intense, fast, dangerous and absolutely mind-blowing this sport, Indian Relay, is. At the end of the first race, all 3.2 minutes of it encompasing three heats, we could barely breathe. We both stood there looking at each other going "Holy absolute crap, that was AMAZING." It has been a very long time since I fell in love that fast and that hard. 

I stepped out onto the track hoping to catch the riders returning to the start line, thinking they would continue around the track again to cool down their horses. Nope. What I didn't know was four still-hot thoroughbreds were coming at me from behind. The race is counter-clockwise but they come back clockwise. Suddenly, a big strong arm was around my back and my face was mashed into someone's chest as they dragged me out of the way... Above me, I heard a voice say, "We're going to have to keep you alive." That's how I met Dexter Bruised Head, who was created the Canadian Indian Relay Racing Association (CIRRA). 

Having done what he promised, and me being very much still alive, he asked if I would photograph the winners of each heat. 

I had still not found our young friend, Steven Wolf Tail, who had invited us to come see relay. I had just photographed a team wearing bright crimson shirts, when the rider jumped off his horse, sprinted across the track and hugged me. Steven. 

Since that day, my spouse and co-photographer and I have followed relay around southern Alberta. We have been welcomed by the teams and their families, by the communities where relays take place. It has been the quintessential experience of our lives. 

From day one, we decided to support relay, and the teams, with photography. We don't charge the teams for our work, and we fund our travels to relays ourselves. The sport is growing and becoming more known outside the nations. 

In 2019, we had a conversation with Dexter, and with the coordinator of the Strathmore event, Lavina Many Guns, about our putting together an exhibition of images along side a discussion of the term "Indian," and a description of relay - it's history (400 years!), its unique presence in Alberta and western Saskatchewan, in the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Cree nations here. They were in support, and our first exhibition was mounted at Calgary's then brand-new central library from June to August that year. 

Since then, the exhibition has been exhibited four more times in Calgary. 

Thanks to many, many people - Steven Wolf Tail and his parents, Wyonah and Irv, Dexter, Lavina, the teams and riders and their families, and Minoru Ueda (fellow potter - that's a whole 'nother story), the exhibition, INDIAN. RELAY. travelled to Japan, where it was exhibited at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo from June to September 2022. From there, it is going to The Equine Cultural Foundation's two locations: Tokyo, March and April 2023, and Osaka, April to June 2023. Concurrently, the exhibition will be at The Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples in Abashiri, on the north east cost of Hokkaido. Also conncurrently, the exhibition is mounted at the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC until the end of March 2023. 

 


Comments

No comments posted.
Loading...
Subscribe
RSS
Archive
January February March April May June July August (1) September (1) October November (1) December
January February March (1) April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June (1) July August September October November December (1)
January (1) February March (1) April May June July August September October November December (1)
January February March April May June (1) July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November (1) December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February (1) March April May June July (2) August September (1) October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December