An Interview with Cieran Starlight

How the 2018 Calgary Stampede Indian Princess is breaking barriers and maintaining the ethos of Stampede.

BY JENN WEBSTER

If you haven’t picked up a copy of the May/June Western Horse Review, you need to – soon! In this issue, we had the opportunity to photograph and interview Cieran Starlight, the 2018 Calgary Stampede Indian Princess. Lending her photography talent, was Shelby Simmonds of Twisted Tree Photography. There were so many amazing photos taken at this shoot and since it’s not always possible to fit everything onto the printed pages of a magazine, we simply had to showcase them here. Here too, is an excerpt of the interview.

Photo by Twisted Tree Photography.

Cieran Starlight is a fresh face in a heavy conversation about Indigenous awareness.

Raised traditionally, Starlight hails from the Tsuu T’ina First Nations. She represents the tribes of Treaty 7 (Siksika, Tsuu T’ina, Stoney, Piikani and Kainai Nations), Indian Village and the Calgary Stampede as the 2018 Indian Princess. It’s a commitment of colossal proportions and one that requires large shoulders. As Princess, Starlight will attend numerous events during her reign (more than there are days in the year), and educate the people she meets about the vibrant First Nations culture.

The name of her title will be questioned.

That fact alone should make the general public realize that upon winning her crown, Starlight won herself a very important role in promoting Indigenous richness – not a beauty pageant.

Starlight in her white, satin fancy dress, colourful shawl, and other breathtaking, cultural regalia. Photo by Twisted Tree Photography.

However, it doesn’t hurt that she has the kindest eyes, a genuinely beautiful smile and flawless skin either.

Growing up around the Calgary Stampede teepee owners, Starlight is well educated about the history of the Indian Village. Her family has been part of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth since 1912. She comes from a long line of Starlight performers who year after year, stay in the Village for the duration of Stampede’s 10 days answering questions for tourists, performing in Rope Square, and participating in mini pow-wows. She even worked one summer stint as an interpretative guide. It’s possible Starlight’s transition into the Indian Princess role, was a birth right bestowed on her by the universe.

There may be no more genuinely authentic person to represent First Nations peoples and their Stampede traditions at the moment than Starlight. Her challenge – one shared by a younger generation that has inherited the after effects of a cultural trauma – is how to encourage a better understanding of Aboriginal Peoples and how to keep that difficult conversation relevant for the future.

“I am not offended to be called the Indian Princess. I’m okay with it. It’s beaded into my crown. People have just used it in such an offensive way to Natives in the past,” Starlight says. Photo by Twisted Tree Photography.

Luckily, for many of her adventures as Princess, Starlight is accompanied by chaperone Holly Fortier, who is a Cree/Dene from Ft. McKay First Nation, Alberta, and was also born in Treaty 7 Territory. Fortier has travelled the county conducting cultural sensitivity workshops to literally thousands of people, through her Nisto Consulting business. Fortier is in the ripple-effect generation of Indigenous people who suffered first-hand from Canada’s Residential School policies as her own mother was taken from her family at an early age. She has her own story and has carved out her own powerful role in the world by helping others adopt a respectful comprehension of Indigenous awareness.

Together and separately, both Starlight and Fortier are a spiritual force we can’t help but embrace. They are the winds carrying change.

“I’m so happy that I get to be a voice and not just a face,” Starlight tells us afterwards.

Starlight’s custom Princess buckle and a jingle dress she created herself. Photo by Twisted Tree Photography.

In the interview, we talk about the history of the Calgary Stampede, Guy Weadick and the positive relations between the Stampede and the Treaty 7 First Nations people. We also talk about the Indigenous name controversy. It’s an enlightening conversation to which, we are privileged to have Fortier’s guidance on the subject.

Photo by Twisted Tree Photography.

We also discover the many talents Starlight possesses: she often makes her own jingle or fancy dresses and shawls to compete in traditional dance. One of her favorite tasks as the Princess are her days spent with the Happy Trails organization – a monthly event during her reign that requires all of the Stampede Royalty to meet at Senior Citizen homes and spend time with the residents.

“We sing old songs and do live performances for them,” Starlight grins. “Sometimes they want to sing along with us so we’ll find the page in their songbooks for them too. Things like that.”

She often tries to wear her yellow jingle dress on these visits because she knows many of the seniors need their spirits lifted. “I do a healing dance for them. A lot of the older ladies want to touch the jingles afterwards – they’re so cute. And it’s so nice if you can bring a smile to their face,” she says.

 

Starlight curbs the chill of the winter temperatures, in a Pendleton Night Dance Robe blanket. Photo by Twisted Tree Photography.

“My role as Princess is to try and break down barriers and help people understand – this is about more than just a title. The Calgary Stampede is run on volunteers. The Royalty programs are youth development programs that help young women learn to speak publicly and build their confidence. I’m trying to educate people about my culture. We all have different dialects of language and different traditions that we practice. A word is not what I’m focusing on – it’s the Treaty 7 and the Calgary Stampede as a whole.” – Cieran Starlight.

To read more of this exclusive interview, order your subscription today at: www.westernhorsereview.com

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