Stampede First Nations Princess, Astokomii Smith speaks up about mental health
For many living in Alberta, June 2013 is a time that is hard to forget. It was a time of hardship, struggle, resiliency and community. Weeks of heavy rainfall caused the water levels of the Bow and Elbow rivers to rise drastically resulting in major flooding across southern Alberta. One of the communities heavily impacted is a community that we at the Calgary Stampede hold a close relationship with, Siksika First Nation.
This past December, the CBC program Still Standing, took a journey to Siksika Nation, where host and Comedian, Jonny Harris took it upon himself to find the humour in this devastating situation, uncovering the resiliency of the Siksika people after the floods of 2013. Throughout the episode, Harris interviews a variety of guests who call Siksika home, learning and sharing their stories and the individual resiliency of each person.
2019 Calgary Stampede First Nations Princess, Astokomii Smith, was one of those featured on the program, speaking about her struggles with anxiety, and how she overcame it to become the 2019 First Nations Princess. During her reign, Smith made it her personal mission to raise awareness about mental health and to reduce the stigma around mental illness and encourage others to openly share their own stories.
“It’s important to talk about mental health, because it breaks down the stigma that if we have mental health issues, we are weak,” says Smith. “My biggest obstacle in life was my mental health, but now it’s my biggest influence. When I talk about mental health, I hope to show others that it’s something that we all deal with and shouldn’t let hold us back.”
In her interview with Harris, Smith talks about how her first name means “Voice of Thunder” in Blackfoot, which she notes felt ironic when she was younger as she felt the opposite, due to the anxiety from which she was suffering. She shares how her mental health struggles held her back from doing things she was good at and knew she could do–like competing in Fancy Shawl Dance–because of an irrational self-doubt that manifested as a result of her anxiety. It wasn’t until moving in with her Grandmother in Siksika that she was finally able to open up about her anxiety, and a huge weight was lifted off of her shoulders.
“I always thought that nobody would hear what I have to say–I was quiet and anxious and never imagined myself talking in front of anyone, really,” notes Smith. “Still Standing had seen my advocacy for mental health and I couldn’t thank them enough for listening and sharing my message.”
Also featured in the episode of Still Standing, Harris goes behind the scenes with Allison Red Crow and Cody Big Tobacco of the Relay Race team, Old Sun, who call Siksika home. The team has competed in the event at the Calgary Stampede the past two years to massive cheers from the Grandstand. Harris interviews the duo about the sport of relay racing, how they grew up as horsemen and how they now work to champion the sport of Relay Racing, which they describe as “North America’s original extreme sport.”
They had set out on their journey of bringing recognition to the sport as underdogs. While competing at the Calgary Stampede in July 2019, the team’s Jockey, Cody, dismounted his horse too soon and hit the ground, his competitors taking off down the track well before him. Knowing that he likely wouldn’t win the race, Cody demonstrated what it truly means to be resilient – getting back up on the horse and finishing the race anyways!
We are proud of our neighbours in Siksika and are grateful to have been a small part of a few of their stories of resilience and perseverance. If you are interested in watching the full episode of Still Standing, you can see it online here.