By Samantha Johnson
Southern Alberta Newspaperss
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Award-winning Blackfoot filmmaker Cowboy Smithx of southern Alberta’s Piikani and Kainai tribes, has been making the rounds speaking to students at Prairie Rose Public Schools.
He was at Parkside School in Redcliff recently with Grade 6 students from Margaret Wooding joining the assembly.
Smithx began his talk by explaining his name – explaining that it had to do with rodeo, which both his parents were involved in, joking about what his name might have been had they been plumbers.
Smithx spoke to the students about the importance of wearing orange shirts at this time of year.
“A very important subject,” he said. “It’s not just about Indigenous cultures or histories, it’s about Canada, Alberta and Redcliff (as well).”
He explained that 147 years ago, on Sept. 22, 1877, Treaty 7 was signed. Smithx used the example of a Pokemon card trade to explain an Indigenous pipe ceremony and how it was the historical method used by Indigenous peoples to confirm a contract.
There were several Oilers fans in the gymnasium and Smithx asked the kids to imagine someone taking away their jersey and never giving it back and how it relates to Phyllis Webstad’s story and the orange shirt campaign.
“That is why we wear the shirt in solidarity, to bring awareness about what happened in residential schools.”
Smith spoke about Truth and Reconciliation Day, likening Sept. 30 to Remembrance Day.
“We never forget our veterans, so why should we forget Indigenous people who went through lots of suffering as well? Who suffered through genocide? It’s very important to me that this is happening, as an Indigenous person,” Smithx said. “I’m very thankful this conversation is happening, but it’s not over. The conversation is ongoing, we are still dealing with lots of discrimination in this country, still dealing with lots of bullying and racism.”
He again used a Pokemon card exchange, this time to define reconciliation and how the breaking of treaties affected Indigenous people.
Smithx described characteristics of buffalo to discuss the importance of resilience. Buffalo are led by a matriarch, a single female who would sense danger in the distance, such as a large storm. Most animals run away or hide but the buffalo, which had herds the size of a small city, run into the storm.
“The lead buffalo turns her head towards the storm and she starts charging,” explained Smithx. “There are so many of them. They become such a powerful force that they become one … the barometric pressure changes and breaks the storm up.”
This is the lesson the buffalo gave the Indigenous people, he said. Each day brings a different storm, whether that be homework, chores or whatever someone wants to procrastinate on.
“When things get really hard, really difficult, you have to charge into the storm because if you run away from the storm, what happens?” asked Smithx. “It stays on top of you. If you stop and turn and run through it, you come out the other side to see the sunshine and rainbows.”
He taught the students a Blackfoot word that means ‘try your best,’ put your best your best foot forward and charge the storm.
“That’s the message all of the ancestors have given to all my grandparents and passed down to me, in spite of all the hardships we faced as Indigenous peoples,” said Smithx. “This is a Blackfoot story, and this is your story because when the treaty was made in 1877 we all became one big family. That’s the story we don’t hear enough and that’s the story I’m going to tell all of you.”
Asking how many remember the pandemic, Smithx talked about how his ancestors wanted us all to work together in uncertain times such as that.
“There is no reason for us to be at odds with each other. There is no reason you should be picking on each other and giving each other a hard time. There are enough natural forces out there in the world that could potentially harm us.”
It is dishonouring the treaty to be a bully, and this is part of the conversation around Truth and Reconciliation.
“The spirit and intent behind what we as Indigenous people wanted in the first place when we made treaty. We wanted new family, we wanted new friends, we wanted to trade.”