What makes a Native rodeo different?

Four cowboys at the Tsuu T'ina Nation Rodeo
Courtesy of Doug Cuthand, Blue Hill Productions, Frame 11

To the general audience, a rodeo produced by Native people appears to be very similar to other rodeos. Native rodeos include a number of children's and community events not usually seen at other rodeos; however, one of the most significant differences is the respect participants have for the animals, a respect that is based on a very special, long-standing relationship with natural and supernatural beings, particularly horses and cattle, the modern equivalent of the buffalo. Most rodeos begin with the Cowboy Prayer, and an opening prayer in a Native language acknowledging the superiority of the animals, who are asked to have pity on the human beings and not be "too hard" on them during the competition.

Native people also feel their rodeos are different in ways that are less visible. To them, performing and competing in the presence of their friends and family is a deeply personal experience. Socializing is one of the most important activities at Native rodeos.

It is something that we can relate to; Indians have always been close to animals. At the Indian Rodeos you see another Indian competing with an animal or working with an animal. So, in a way it is special. It is a mixture too, of different tribes communicating and exchanging different ideas, learning about each other — the way each lives.

Cecil Louis, in "What is the Western Indian Rodeo and Exhibit Association?"

Rodeo has become part of our heritage. Part of our ability as athletes is to be able to compete one on one with the animal that was set here on earth by the creator. We are probably closer to the animals involved in the rodeo than most of the other cowboys are. We have a bond, a closeness with the livestock because of our Indian way of life. Horses and cattle (buffalo) have been a part of our way of life from day one. It all ties in together. Once you're a cowboy you have to be proud to be a cowboy, but most important you have to be proud to be an Indian cowboy.

Todd Buffalo, Nehiyaw, Hobbema, Alberta, 1993

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