PRINCESS OR COWGIRL

Princess Redbird, 1916, Pendleton Roun-Up

The only current PRCA Indian female competitor is Kaila Mussell, a Sto:lo First Nations member from Chilliwack, BC.  She followed the bronc riding circuit around eastern Oregon and ranked well this past summer according to Cedric Wild Bill.   Cowgirl Mussell is profiled in a video in Tamástslikt’s current Cowgirls exhibit.  Students Clare Ely and Crystal Sundin created the History Day multimedia presentation at Helix High School and are generously sharing their production for the edification of you and me. 

Why aren’t our Indians “horsey” any more?  There are a few families that have clung on to their horse heritage it’s true.  Back in the day, everybody used to own strings of horses.  That was admittedly a lot of horseflesh to support on our reservation rangeland.  The Indian Services government outfit pretty much eradicated most local stock during a period of range management that went on in the 1940-50’s.  Indian people used to range their horses together up in the hills.  In the springtime everybody would gather to brand new foals.  Some local Indians were hired by Indian Services to round up the Indian ponies.  They were herded onto trains and hauled away to make dogfood, fertilizer, glue, etc.  It was done without the consent or compensation of horse owners.  We became “sikemnúut” horseless in a generation’s time.  My aunts still talk about their horses.  No matter what other notable events may have befallen them, the day their horses were taken away is a fresh remembrance.

Malissa Minthorn-Winks got her hands on a French-Canadian book, Indian Princesses and Cowgirls:  Stereotypes from the Frontier, by Marilyn Burgess and Gail Guthrie Valaskakis, 1995.  Feminist writers from up north see princesses and cowgirls in a very political light. 

According to the book, early rodeo became associated with “romanticized notions of national origin,” and that was why competitions of Indians and whites evolved into separate events.  Princess Redbird was a notable exception.  She flourished in the general melee at the early Pendleton Round-Up and later in the Hugo Brothers Wild West show.  Princess Redbird excelled as herself and did not conform to any stereotype, so the book says.  Perhaps her only concession was using the professional name of “Princess”.  Forty years later, Linda One Spot, Sarcee, successfully competed in steer-riding at the Calgary Stampede in 1952 as a boy named “Linder” but her championship was denied her when her true gender became known. 

Linda One Spot, Sarcee, 1952, Calgary Stampede

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