#ExploreLethbridge – Indigenous spirit shines bright

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What does the spirit of a place mean to you? A city can have intangible energy, something you discover through the experiences you have there. It can be uncovered through the local attractions or the people who call it home. Throughout August and September, follow us as we #ExploreLethbridge, getting out on the trails and city streets seeking outdoor adventures, good-time vibes and uncovering a history going back many millennia.


The Sik-Ooh-Kotoki Friendship Society (SFS) is celebrating its 50th anniversary at the Exhibition Park South Pavilion. Indigenous people from across North America have come to participate in such activities as a powwow and Indian relay races.

I soon felt very much at home as I was greeted with the traditional Blackfoot greeting: “oki, napi” - roughly translated as “welcome, friend.”

#ExploreLethbridge to experience a cultural spirit going back many millennia

The Pow wow

Photo: Dax Justin

The powwow intertwines threads of history, passion, pride, and spirit. Indigenous communities unite as one for a grand entry into the arena, putting on a spectacular and powerful display of pride.

After introductions, the traditional drumming and dancing began. It is not just a spectacle; it is a full-body, sensory experience, as Indigenous people dance around the floor. Their intricate movements are in time with the deep drum beat, and I watch in awe.

As I stood on the edge of the red carpet, one individual dressed in full regalia stood out. Proud and strong, Peter Anthony was the most charismatic dancer on the floor, dancing from his very soul. His talent was recognized when he won the senior men's competition.

I shot a portrait photograph of Peter, and posted it on Instagram. A couple hours later, Peter's granddaughter, Kira, sent me a direct message. She had seen the photo through the hashtag #powwow and exclaimed, "That's my Grandpa! His name is Peter Anthony!"

I never would have thought these connections and community would happen from taking this photo.

“I’ll never forget watching him run towards the little table in the arbour at Beaver Lake, after getting first place with a great big smile on his face,” Kira said.

“It really warms my heart to watch him dance. He dances from the heart and he dances because he loves to.”

Photo: Dax Justin

I learned that Peter is from the Adams Lake Indian Band, Secwepemc Nation, near Shuswap, B.C. He makes his own regalia, including the face paint he wears.

The honour of attending this celebration gave me new insight into the spirit and vitality of Indigenous people. 

Traditional Indian horse relay races

Photo: Dax Justin

“Indian relay races,” as they are called, were the spectacular finale of the 50th anniversary celebration.

For those who have never experienced them, they have the intensity of the Calgary Stampede’s chuckwagon races, but without all the gear. It is a bareback display of sheer grit!

There are five teams of racers, with five racers and one horse to each team. As the horn sounds, one rider from each team fires around the track as fast as possible. As they complete the first lap, the rider leaps up and jumps up onto another horse and heads out for a second lap.

Its pure emotion and power is mesmerizing. These highly tuned athletes showed athleticism, courage and unbridled enthusiasm for this traditional Indigenous sport.

The Rocky Mountain Turf Club in Lethbridge is hosting another round of Indian Relay Racing, Sept 14 to 15. And for those who actually want to get out and experience the sport, you can do it each night at 7 p.m. It's just one of the many programs in celebration of the Sik-Ooh-Kotoki Friendship Society 50th anniversary. 

The Galt Museum is keeper of the area’s history

Photo: Dax Justin

The Galt Museum is like a never-ending time machine into the past.

Graham Ruttan, marketing and communications officer, took me through exhibits that ranged from Indigenous history to the creation of the Lethbridge region. Through intricate and creative displays, this museum shows the connections between these communities and how this place came to be the flourishing cultural hub it is.

Photo: Dax Justin

The St. Michael’s exhibit tells the story of this early hospital in Lethbridge. Infant identification bracelets from the 1940s use thread and beads to create hand-made ID bracelets. One of the ID kits has been preserved as it was found.

Suggested Readings:

If the soil beneath us could speak, what would it say? Graham wove the thread between various exhibits to give a clear sense of the land’s connection to the community.

When You Go

The spirit of Lethbridge is unique in so many ways. It's easy to uncover the good-time vibes, its outdoor and historical spirit that goes back many millennia. Search #ExploreLethbridge on your favourite social media channel to learn more

Learn more at the Lethbridge Information Centre (2805 Scenic Drive South) or visit TourismLethbridge.com

Fill your adventure spirit meter by heading into Lethbridge. Let us know what you find along with way using #ExploreLethbridge and you could be featured on our social media channels.

Enjoy a nine-week introduction to the Blackfoot language twice this fall and winter, find out more here.

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