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Grande Prairie Race Course where Indian relay races are held

Kim Randall was blown away when she first witnessed the Indian relay races live at the Calgary Stampede about a half-dozen years ago.

Randall, the general manager of Evergreen Park in the Alberta city of Grande Prairie, is now excited that the sport will be one of the main attractions at the Indigenous Celebration her facility will host next month.

“When you see it live, you have a real appreciation for their horsemanship,” Randall said of Indian relay racing teams. “It’s really very impressive.”

Evergreen Park’s two-day event, scheduled for June 8 and 9, will also feature First Nations drummers and dancers, as well as Indigenous food, arts and crafts.

The Indian relay races will feature four or five teams per race. The sport involves participants riding three laps each bareback on three separate horses. Each rider starts on one horse and then switches to another horse and then another horse during each race.

Each team has a catcher who holds a horse after it completes its round, as well as a number of keepers waiting to help participants move onto a different horse at the end of each round.

“We have horse races here locally,” Randall said. “But we’ve never done anything like this before. It fits our location perfectly.”

Evergreen Park features a trail that is five-eighths of a mile long.

Kimberly Big Crow, organizer of the Indian relay races at Evergreen Park, said the sport means different things to different people.

“The participants enjoy being able to celebrate the history of our culture through this sport,” said Big Crow. “It aligns with cultural education and connects the younger generation with their elders, enhancing skill building and family values ​​within our people.”

Big Crow said the sport has been around for a long time.

“Indian relay racing has been a proud tradition for over 300 years,” she said. “Our mandate is to not only showcase our culture and heritage, but also to showcase the horsemanship of the Indian relay teams.”

A total of 20 teams, 13 from Alberta and seven from Saskatchewan, will participate in next month’s event.

Randall said three teams from the state of Montana were also interested in participating, but insurance costs outside the country hindered the U.S. clubs’ participation this year.

“We’ll figure it out for next year,” Randall said, adding that she is confident teams from the US will participate in future Indian relay races at the park.

Indian relay

Randall hopes Evergreen Park’s Indigenous Celebration will become an annual event.

“The indigenous community is very important to us,” she said. “We want to work with our local First Nations this year and build a showcase of Indigenous culture and heritage for years to come. Indian relay racing is truly a unique expression of the connection between indigenous culture and the horse.”

Randall also wants a large crowd to attend this year’s festivities.

“We hope to see about 3,000 people each day,” she said.

“I hope there will be a real mix of people from different backgrounds,” Randall said. Chiefs, councilors and elders from several First Nations and area Métis settlements have been invited to participate in a grand entry ceremony.

Tickets for the races cost $25 for adults and $15 for people 65 and older or ages 11 to 17. Those under 10 years old have free admission.

Tickets are available at www.evergreenpark.ca

Local Journalism Initiative reporters are supported by funding from the Canadian government.

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