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Urban Studies student shares story of Canada's Indigenous peoples on world stage

Anthony Crowshoe dances in Stampede Showband’s gold-medal performance at World Music Competition 2017

University of Calgary Urban Studies student Anthony Crowshoe performs in the Calgary Stampede Showband field show during World Music Competition 2017. Photo courtesy Mike Siewert

By Kim Lawrence, University Relations

Anthony Crowshoe, a proud member of the Piikani First Nation in Southern Alberta, has some high expectations to meet. As the grandson of University of Calgary Senator and spiritual leader Reg Crowshoe, and son of local Indigenous cultural ambassador Anita Crowshoe, he was born into a family shaped by rich storytelling and deep respect for the traditions of the Blackfoot people.

Crowshoe, 21, is currently a third-year Urban Studies (Faculty of Arts) student at UCalgary. He’s also an experienced ranch-hand, a skilled and passionate horseman, and a talented powwow dancer. This year, he was selected from nearly 20 Indigenous youth who auditioned to be part of the Calgary Stampede Showband’s 2017 field show production, Mosaic.

Developed with Canada’s 150th anniversary in mind, the show is all about the past, present, and future of our country and its peoples, exploring themes of purity, conflict, reconciliation, diversity and inclusion. On July 30, 2017, the Showband performed Mosaic at the World Music Competition in Kerkrade, Netherlands and won a gold medal with distinction.

Mosaic is a special collaboration with the Calgary Stampede’s Indian Events Committee, designed in partnership with local historians and Indigenous leaders and featuring four Indigenous youth from across Alberta — including Crowshoe.

“To be honest, I had no idea I was auditioning,” he says. “I was busy preparing for exams and considering rodeo school in the spring when my grandpa asked me to gather my regalia and get in the car. He dropped me at the new TransAlta Performing Arts Studios at Stampede Park, where my mom explained what was happening.” He was told he would be asked to act and dance for a group of judges who would then select the performers for the show.

For someone who experiences performance anxiety — and who had never acted — Crowshoe had a choice to sink or swim. He swam — hard. He channelled his love of the Game of Thrones series, coupled with key formative experiences in his life, to portray the abstract concepts of beauty, conflict, and reconciliation. He danced the grass dance — which he had not performed for more than a year and a half at that point — with all his heart. Finished his dance, he dutifully returned to his exam studies.

Early in 2017, Crowshoe received a call advising him that he had been selected as one of the performers in Mosaic. Not only would the role entail dozens of rehearsals and performances with the 150-member band, but also a three-week summer tour to Europe and a competition in front of 20,000 people at the World Music Contest in the Netherlands.

“At first, I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do it,” he says. “I had a lot of other plans in the works and I generally prefer the quiet life on the ranch. But I spoke with my family and realized that I had the opportunity to represent not only them and the Calgary Stampede, but also the Indigenous peoples of Canada on the world stage. It was a chance to share our story with a whole new audience. I realized I had to do it.”

Crowshoe has been involved with Stampede over the years: his family camps in the Indian Village and he has ridden as a Treaty 7 young warrior in the Rodeo Grand Entry. He is no stranger to sharing the difficult story of Canada’s evolution. “It’s important to me to contribute to the solution,” he says, “and Mosaic is an honest — sometimes difficult – representation of our complex history. It’s certainly not the whole story — we have about 10 minutes on the field — but every opportunity helps.”

Since July 17, he has been with the band in Europe, travelling through the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany. He has performed in small town squares, medieval market plazas, and a massive sports stadium. He has helped lay a wreath in memory of Canada’s war dead at the Menin Gate in Ypres and visited the Vimy Ridge Memorial. Wherever he dances, he draws attention: audience jaws drop and social media buzzes with comments. Invariably, people feel fortunate to witness his performance in person.

With performance season now over, Crowshoe will head back to school in the fall. He has aspirations of continuing on to environmental design and law school, possibly collaborating with his grandfather one day to study the trend of Indigenous peoples migrating into urban centres and the implications of this on the perpetuation of cultural traditions. He also wants to pursue his farrier credentials.

The World Music Contest featured more than 260 musical ensembles and 20,000 individual musicians. The Calgary Stampede Showband competed in the marching show band class against dozens  of other marching show bands from around the globe. Learn more about the band. Watch a performance of Mosaic. See Anthony Crowshoe dance the grass dance in Maastricht, Netherlands.