Teepees and First Nations Celebrations (FGK-34)

I feel like anything I could say would ruin the perfect beauty of this letter. I am simply going to make the statement, as I do every time this terminology comes up, that I think Aunt Gertie would want to use culturally sensitive words, and this was the language they had at the time. There has always been a lot of respect for our First Nations neighbours to the west of us (and elsewhere).

Cochrane, Alberta

July 23, 1953

Dear Margie:-

Well Margie Sumer is certainly well underway. Haying is in full swing. Last night we had a lot of fun setting up the teepee for the Indians crew in our yard. The children helped us make the wickets and pickets and set up the poles. Afterwards they ramped through the doorway and had pillow fights on the beds. You could hear the giggles everywhere I thought I never would get them in the house to go to bed.

We surely enjoyed the Indian Day celebration at Banff. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. It was held on the grounds of the Banff Springs Hotel. The enclosure was made to resemble a theatre stage and the walls were made of small pine trees set close together. Three gaily painted teepees and a microphone were the main stage feathers. The Indians wandered in leisurely and squatted in groups around the tents. Their beautifully beaded costumes and headdresses lent the whole scene a gay colourful note. The announcer was the best I’ve ever heard. He was from New York and had been made a blood brother ie his wrists had been slashed and his blood mixed with Indian blood. Not many white people have had this honour. He was so witty and interesting that he held us all spellbound.

I wish you could have seen their dancing: the elk dance, the deer dance, chicken dance etc. Each Indian is doing something different and yet all are keeping perfect time. Even the little children join in. Two were only about 3 years old and they were so comical. They kept pulling their gum in and out of their mouths watching the crowds with big brown eyes and keeping the step perfectly. One little boy of the “Ear Family” was only 4 1/2 years old and he was a wonderful dancer. He spun hoops on his arm and both thighs all the time he danced. The crowd kept cheering and he came back three or four times to give solo dances.

I saw the famous dancer “Saddleback”. He is supposed to be the best Indian dancer in Alberta and I can well believe it. You just couldn’t help but notice him. He had a beautiful powder blue suit with rose heading and more snow white fox skins at his waist and one he held over one arm like a muff. He put his feet down so carefully and lightly and they were never still a moment. The many bells on his ankles tinkled merrily. You could almost imagine the deer’s movement as he danced. He also danced with hoops whisking on both arms and legs. One thing I noticed particularly in the Indian dance it is the play of the muscles in the shoulders. It was a steady rhythm and must take quite a while to learn.

Eddie “One Spot” sang some cowboy songs. Another “One Spot” boy played the guitar and sang. Music takes on an added charm in the mountains as it seems to almost echo back. I was sorry we hadn’t taken all the children as they would have enjoyed it so much.

At one point in the program the announcer asked which people thought they had come from the longest distance. Some were from South America, Switzerland, Sweden, England, Germany etc. One girl called “Karen” came from Sweden. Another gentleman was from Switzerland. These were considered to have come from furthest away. As a keepsake of their visit to Canada each was given a beautifully beaded pair of moccasins. They surely were pleased.

Last week my aunt Mina and uncle Ed and 3 cousins were here from Toronto, Ontario. They were motoring through northern USA and back through Canada. They seemed to enjoy western Canada albeit uncle Ed was sure fed up with mountains. He was so funny describing his driving on mountain roads.

I guess Shirley is leaving me in another couple of weeks. She is going to get her old job back as secretary. She can earn a lot more money that way. I’ll miss her as she has sure been a good worker and i really need the help with a hay crew. Alvin is going to try and get a job with the oil wells as it pays well. It’s too bad young folks can’t learn to wait to marry till they have a bit of money saved up. They seem to have to learn the hard way.

My peonies have been just grand this year. I’ll still have bouquets of them for another week I think .The garden looks so nice since we used our new rototiller.

I’ve been busy canning fruit and making jam. It’s nice to get the shelves filled again.

We all send best wishes


Aunt Gertie


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