Calgary Stampede's 2019 First Nations Princess wants to highlight anxiety, Indigenous education
'It creates that conversation of why we were called Indian before and why we prefer First Nations'
It's been rebranded and the newest title holder is looking to put the spotlight on anxiety issues and Indigenous education.
The Calgary Stampede's 2019 First Nations Princess, formerly Indian Princess, is 19-year-old Astokomii Smith of the Siksika Nation. Ahead of a busy year of appearances and appointments, she sat down with The Homestretch to discuss how she views the role.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. You can listen to the complete interview here.
Q: How does it feel?
A: I am truly, truly honoured to be able to have the first First Nations Princess title.
Q: What was the competition like?
A: Our first part of the competition was a cocktail reception. We mingled with people from the Calgary Stampede and sponsors.
It was silent judging, we didn't know who the judges were. They wanted to see how we interact with people.
Q: The name has changed. It used to be Indian Princess, now it's First Nations Princess.
A: I think it's a wonderful change. It creates that conversation of why we were called Indian before and why we prefer First Nations.
Q: You recently graduated from Siksika Outreach School and received the Governor General's Award for Highest Academics. You are also the Indigenous liaison for Strathmore. How did these experiences factor in?
A: So much. With the Indigenous liaison position, I was able to meet a lot of people throughout the summer and do a lot of public speaking.
That really helped me build skills for the Stampede.
Q: What is a fancy shawl dancer?
A: I have been dancing since I was four years old.
My grandmother brought me to a powwow and I said, "I want to dance." So she made me an outfit and thought it was just going to be a phase, but sure enough, here I am, 19 years old and I am still dancing.
This particular dance originated from Oklahoma and it was usually just the men doing fancy dancing.
One day a woman said, "Hey, we can dance just like you, just as fast as you."
Q: How competitive is that?
A: It's very competitive. You have to be really in shape.
It's probably one of the fastest types of dancing. There is a lot of spinning, lot of kicking, lot of footwork.
Q: What are some of the things you will be doing over the next year, as the First Nations Princess?
A: I will definitely be meeting a lot of people.
A lot of meet and greets, a lot of dinners. It will also be educating others on Indigenous issues as well as representing the Calgary Stampede.
Q: Why did you want to get into this?
A: I always wanted to be able to represent my people.
I want to talk about my struggle with anxiety and I figure with such a big platform, it would give me a voice.
I'd be able to show that, even dealing with these struggles, I can still be a princess.
Q: What made you want to put yourself in this environment?
A: Anxiety is something a lot of people deal with and it's not something people really talk about and I think it should be.
People look at is as a weakness but I used it as my strength.
Q: How do you manage your anxiety?
A: I have been talking to people about it for the past couple of years. I find that really helps, to know that other people support me throughout it.
I have learned some good coping mechanisms. My favourite one was told to me by a friend of mine. She said think of a colour, then count the things in the room of that colour. It just takes your mind off of things, distracts you.
Q: What are some other techniques you use?
A: I know I won't be alone, especially with the trio I will be with most of the time.
Just having that support will really help me with this.
Q: Is this a full-time job or can you go to school or do other things in the next year.
A: It is a full-time job. I am still working as the Strathmore Indigenous liaison and I am still in school. However, I may have to hold off on some of this.
Q: What happens when it's over?
A: I am hoping to get into the veterinary program at the University of Calgary.
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With files from The Homestretch.