BY JORDAN PARKER
Maple Creek will make history this July with the town’s first time hosting Indian Relay Racing.
The event – hosted by Cowtown Productions – marks a partnership with the Canadian Indian Relay Racing Association, and will see a celebration of First Nations culture.
“We’re over-the-top excited for this event. It’s the perfect fit here, with our history with First Nations and our Cowboy Culture,” said co-organizer Joe Braniff.
“It’s the perfect marriage, and it will be a celebration of Indigenous peoples wrapped up in a Kentucky Derby.”
The races will see teams of four – dressed in authentic regalia – on horses, racing around the track against two other teams per heat.
The speed and determination of racers will show, as the jockeys ride bareback, and jump from one galloping horse to another three times.
“I’ve been looking into this event for quite some time, but I hadn’t been on the Cowtown Productions committee for a number of years. When they approached me about coming back, I came on with ideas about this event,” said Braniff.
Braniff had checked out Indian Relay Racing on Youtube and done some research, and said the committee response to the idea was overwhelming.
“They didn’t bat an eye. Everyone was so into it, and we knew we wanted an event here,” he said. “There are so many moving parts and preparation, but we can’t wait for this.”
He says the races have been in southern Alberta for a while, and that the national finals take place in Lethbridge, AB. each fall. But he also thinks the event is a custom fit for Maple Creek.
“With our history, local settlers, ranchers, farmers and the strong bond with the Nekaneet First Nation here, it’s a big deal,” he said.
Braniff sometimes faces questions about the morality of the Battle of the Little Buck Puck, a Maple Creek traditional hockey game that sees its proceeds go to charity.
The event pits the Nekaneet locals against the ranching community in a friendly game of cowboys and Indians.
“We hear about racial strife, but we can have these kinds of events because the friendly relationship between Indigenous peoples and ranchers in the community goes back generations,” he said.
“We have a lot of history, mutual respect and goodwill built up over these years. Everyone embraces horse culture, and we all have a proud relationship.”
Residents and eventgoers will be treated after the Indian Relay Races, as Bull Riders Canada Inc. will put on a world-class bull riding event right after.
Curtis Sawyer and the Outlaw Buckers are also bringing their award-winning bulls to Maple Creek.
“With these two events going on one after the other, this could be the biggest one-day event Maple Creek has ever seen,” said Braniff.
“I’m just a kid – I’m 57 – but I don’t think I remember ever seeing anything like this come to town. This is a great event, and it will bring people of all cultures and those fans of relay racing in also.”
Braniff also hopes the events can inject some capital into the pulse of the town.
“Counting the town and RM, we have 3,000 people in the general area. We could have 2,000 people in for the event, more or less, in a day. If I were running a business here, I’d be over the top,” he said.
“People will utilize the restaurants, buy fuel, and stay overnight. They’ll stroll down Jasper Street, and any time we can put our town on the international stage, it’s a good thing.”
Braniff is optimistic that the relay and bull riding will be a positive thing for all who attend.
“It will be great for Maple Creek to host, and it will be amazing for everyone who comes here. Being here on a beautiful July day celebrating the heritage is so important,” he said.
“We can’t ask for a better way to embrace what all of this is about.”
The event – happening on Thursday, July 19, 2018, will start with the Indian Relay Races at 5 p.m. Around 7:30 p.m., the bull riding will start.
The whole night is dubbed the Showdown In Cowtown and will take place at the High Chapparal Arena.
Tickets will be on sale soon through local merchants and the Cypress Hills Destination Area and cost $40 for the whole event, or $25 for just the bull riding.
The beer gardens will be open, Kokums Kitchen are the concessionaires, For more information, visit the Cowtown Productions Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CowtownMapleCreek/.