Alanna Bluebird explores the life of Tsuut’ina hero Chief Bull Head through transformative art
“Art has always been a part of me – every part of us is art. Our minds create our realities every day. It inspires me to know everything is art.” – Alanna Bluebird
Alanna Bluebird is a Blackfoot (Niitsitapi) Dene poet from the Tsuut’ina (Tsúùt’ínà) Nation. A photographer, filmmaker, writer and quillworker, Alanna also works for the Tsuut’ina Gunaha Institute language program in resource development – where she assists teachers and community members.
A self-described ‘transformative artist,’ Alanna mixes various art mediums during her performances. Starting out with Meeting Treaty 7 in 2016, with no experience in theatre, Alanna joined the cast of the original, big-production play about creating the historic Treaty 7 agreement. Alanna acted in her first play with MT7 at Mount Royal University’s Bella Concert Hall.
“I had no experience with performing arts or theatre,” Alanna says. “Michelle [Thrush] reached out because she was looking for Tsuut’ina artists and performers – I shared a poem with her about our Chief Bullhead. They immediately said, ‘we want you to be part of the show.’ I said yes, right away – it was really exciting.”
Growing from her experiences in 2016, Alanna dove into performance art and welcomed the opportunity to create a piece for the two-week Istotsi residency program.
“I like theatre over film,” Alanna says. “When you do theatre, you have one chance – performers have one chance to nail it for a live theatre. I love the energy that you feel when you’re performing for thousands of people.”
For her Istotsi site, Alanna chose Fish Creek Provincial Park. The creek flows from the heart of the Tsuut’ina Nation for more than 20 km into Mohkínsstsisi (Calgary) where it meets the Bow River in the east. Crossing the Calgary Ring Road and Macleod Trail, the park is the second largest of its kind in Canada. The site is deeply meaningful for the People of the Tsuut’ina Nation.
The People of Treaty 7 Territory preserved the land in Fish Creek Provincial Park, where they hunted buffalo and gathered food since time immemorial. The southern side of Fish Creek in Tsuut’ina Territory (originally, Wolf Creek) is also the burial site of Chief Bull Head (Chiila, Little Chief, and Stamixo’tokan). Chief Bull Head was a famed Tsuut’ina leader, who despite threats of colonial extinction and starvation, saved his People and preserved the Tsuut’ina way of life. Once described by colonialist invader and Mountie John H. McIllree as “...a very bad man who exhibits a most pernicious influence over people,” Chief Bull Head was a hero who resolved to never give up Tsuut’ina land and a traditional way of life. Chief Bull Head reluctantly signed Treaty No. 7 on September 22, 1877 along with the Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood), Piikani (Peigan), and Stoney-Nakoda People.
“It’s really significant for me because this is where Bull Head came and signed the Treaty,” Alanna says. “He found this area for us to live – even though we weren’t supposed to be living in this territory. He fought for us to be here today – to be in this area. Today we are part of Calgary. We are a part of Fish Creek. The only difference is that there’s a road there – like an invisible border. My area is connected to our People, and that’s why it is so significant to us – it’s really beautiful.”
The Istotsi project was unique for Alanna because her piece wasn’t created from discussing information from textbooks about the land pre- and post-Treaty. Alanna, like other Istotsi performers, learned from Elders and discussions with the entire group. She was also able to sit on the land, create from her sensory experience, meditate and let her creativity flow outwards.
“My ideas came to me when I put down tobacco, said a prayer, and went for a walk in Fish Creek,” Alanna says. “Just being there – that’s where I got my inspiration. Just being on the land...the Istotsi experience was really different compared to the other shows. This was small and intimate – it felt really good to get to know the other artists. It felt like we were part of a Ceremony last summer while we were doing it.”
A stone cairn now lies on Tsuut’ina Nation by Fish Creek to count the remaining Tsuut’ina People – placed after Chief Bull Head’s death in 1911.
Alanna Bluebird will be opening for Elizabeth Gilbert, famed author of Eat, Pray, Love for the WILD (Women. Inspiration. Leadership. Development.) Conference on May 6, 2022. Alanna will be saying a land acknowledgement and prayer before the author takes the stage.