July 13, 2022

2022 First Nations Princess is a UCalgary graduate student

Two princesses reign over the Calgary Stampede this year, marking a shift for the 110-year-old western showcase that, until now, has always included a queen
'I wish to be a cowboy' words on wall
Sikapinakii Low Horn's studio wall Sikapinakii Low Horn

Sikapinakii Low Horn may be a Stampede princess, but what this year’s First Nations royalty from the Siksika Nation truly wants is . . . to be a cowboy.

Sikapinakii Low Horn

Sikapinakii Low Horn

It’s all painted in big black letters across her studio wall on the sixth floor of the Faculty of Arts space above the University of Calgary’s Arts Parkade: “I wish to be a COWBOY.” But why?, we asked Low Horn, whose first name means “black-eyed woman?”

“So many reasons,” says the interdisciplinary master’s student, who is a fan of Thomas King’s books and the paintings of her uncle, Richard Emery Duck Chief, a well-known Blackfoot artist. “Gender isn’t so important in my thesis and studio work,” explains the 26-year-old Siksika Nation Traditional dancer.

“I love the hours I spend reminiscing about stories and times with my grandfathers and my dad. Seeing them as cowboys is something, simply, that I always wanted to be!

“Since last fall, I’ve been digging through archives . . . studying cowboys,” she adds. “At this point, I can tell you that my thesis will be a combination of performance, text (about Blackfoot cowboys and Treaty 7 histories and culture), drawing, even painting.”

Of all the stories Low Horn likes to share, it’s the Blackfoot legend of the Little People Low Horn loves the most. Like mischievous fairies, the Little People live near riverbanks or in houses. Attracted to shiny objects and candy, they’re often the culprits behind many a missing thing. “It’s not unusual for us to call out to them . . . ‘Hey, bring it back’,” Low Horn explains, eyes twinkling.​​​

Richard Emery Duck Chief, a well-known Blackfoot artist

Richard Emery Duck Chief, a well-known Blackfoot artist

Although she may revere cowboys, it was her mother and aunt who raised Low Horn.

“They were the coolest,” says Low Horn. “My mom was tough, but always honest with me. And I don’t know that I’d be an artist today if it wasn’t for her. When she had extra money, she’d go to the dollar store and buy me a sketch pad or pencils . . . that’s the only thing that would keep me quiet. I guess you could say I grew up drawing.

"She is, undeniably, my hero. And my aunt . . . she was more like a big sister. And such a good sister.”

In fact, it was a portfolio of drawings that got Low Horn into UCalgary’s Fine Arts program after getting a bachelor’s at Alberta University of the Arts, and it’s her love of art that will likely lead her back to the Siksika Nation with the dream of eventually teaching art.

Life of a Stampede princess

But until then, Low Horn will lead the life of a princess, packing in 300 public events in a six-month reign — including the Stampede parade, the nightly grandstand show during the fair itself, and numerous other programs.

“I am quite comfortable with public speaking now,” Low Horn admits. “And I am getting used to the high life . . . maybe too quickly? I love my outfits (new ribbon skirts, a beaded crown, stunning cowboy hats, fancy boots, other custom-made shirts and skirts bedecked with applique), and I do feel spoiled with a driver and people who will hold things for me or buy me a water if I say I am thirsty.

“I admit that sometimes it feels weird . . . but awfully nice.”

Through her role, Low Horn, who is also a Brave Dog (a member of one of Siksika’s seven secret societies that organize the annual Sundance ceremony), wants to represent Indigenous people in a positive, progressive way that educates others about First Nations culture and its rich history.

“The stories and language I use as the princess [Low Horn speaks Blackfoot and English fluently] . . . well, I hope that entices non-Indigenous people to learn more about the Blackfoot people and the Treaty 7 people.”