Changing Horses, By Marga Lincoln, Independent Record
O’siyo. American Indian relay races are becoming a very popular sport. Although the exact origins of the sport are unclear, some say that the races have been in existence since the early 1900s. A documentary of this fascinating sport will be presented by Montana PBS Monday, November 18, 2013.
“A new documentary by Montana PBS, Indian Relay, focuses on this unique and dangerous sport. Before the film premieres nationally in November…Filmed by Charles Dye, a Northwest Regional Emmy-award winner, it was written by Montana educator and poet M.L. Smoker, who is Assiniboine and Sioux.
You’ll see incredible and daring race film footage from a host of relay races in Indian Country and then the Indian Relay National Championships in Blackfoot, Idaho, in 2011.
Along the way, you travel with rider Myles Murray from Browning, Zack Rock and Kendall Old Horn of Crow Agency and Lance Tissisimit and Alonzo “Punkin” Coby, who are Shoshone-Bannock from Fort Hall, Idaho.
In this sport, riders race bareback at top gallop around a track. After one lap, barely slowing down, they switch horses by leaping down from one and onto another. After galloping around the track the second lap, the riders again leap onto a fresh horse and race to the finish line. These riders are very athletic and very fearless,said Old Horn, who has been involved in Indian relay racing for 37 years.
You could take any Indian relay rider and he could play with the best basketball and football players. But you can’t take the best football or basketball player and put them in Indian relay. Professional jockeys wouldn’t touch Indian relay with a 10-foot stick. The degree and skill it takes to be an Indian relay rider is night and day from any other sport.
There’s quite a bit of choreography that’s involved, said Dye, the film’s director and producer. It takes a real trained team effort. There’s also quite a bit of chaos and danger on the track throughout the race.
His interest in Indian relay was first piqued years ago, when he was filming the Montana PBS documentary, “Before There Were Parks,” which showed the views of Native people on the creation of Yellowstone and Glacier National parks. It aired at the time of Ken Burns’ 2009 PBS series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.
My curiosity was building,” said Dye, who had been seeing photos in different homes showing various Indian relay races. I couldn’t figure out the photos. It didn’t look like standard horse racing.
When Aaron Pruitt, director of content at MontanaPBS, heard Dye first describe this crazy, dangerous, exhilarating sport, he was surprised.
I’m a native Montanan,” said Pruitt, “and I’d never heard of this. We were thrilled to tell this contemporary and popular story.
It’s also been selected by PBS’ five-time Emmy Award-winning series “Independent Lens,” and will premiere before national public television audiences on Nov. 18.
Video clip of a Relay Race Here:
“It’s a unique and beautiful sport. It’s just amazing. Those thoroughbreds are huge. These guys are brave, and these horses are too. The horses are also athletes.” ~ Charles Dye~ Director and producer of Indian Relay
There are many legends about how the Indians learned about the Talking Feather/Talking Stick. Here is one of them…
Long years ago, when gods walked this earth and the land beyond, Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei, were together enjoying the warm summer day. It was a day when the crickets chirrupted in the waving, green grass,when they noticed a figure moving towards them.
As the figure approached closer Kanati said “Look, that woman is crying, what could be the matter?” “I can not imagine why anyone would cry on such a glorious day.” Replied Asgaya Gigagei. “Let’s ask her.”
As the woman drew nearer, they could see her buckskin was decorated with beautiful designs and colors. She carried a bundle filled with leaves, sage, and colorful stones and feathers. They knew immediately this woman was a holy being.
Kanati asked her “Holy mother, why are you crying so?” The woman looked up in wonder, because she had been walking with her head down. “I’m crying because the men of my village are fighting constantly! Each thinks his ideas for leading the tribe is the best!” Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei glanced at one another, in perplexity. “Why, if there are so many good ideas for leading your tribe, why are the men fighting? And why aren’t you and the other members happy!” The poor woman shook her head sadly and replied, “Yes, you are right, the men do have very good ideas, but every man wants to speak his own ideas, and not listen to anyone else. They all shout and scream at one another so loudly, that it frightens the children who run and hide behind their mothers. The women are sad because their husbands come to the house upset and angry. Furthermore, the tribe is suffering, because no one can seem to make a decision.” Just then a beautiful Eagle was soaring overhead, Kanati called out “Brother Eagle, may I have one of your feathers, there are poor humans in desperate need!”
Bother Eagle replied “Yes” and shook himself until a single iridescent, large feather fell to the ground. “Many thanks and Blessings on you” said Kanati. Kanati made secret signs and prayers over the Feather. Asgaya Gigagei helped him with the blessings. Kanati then said to the woman “This is the sacred Talking Father, it holds great power for the one who holds it. Go back to your people, hold this feather up in the air, all who see it will fall silent, and listen to what you have to say. Tell all who listen that from now on, who ever holds this feather, all present within the Circle Council must listen to his words. The feather must then be passed on to the next speaker.”
The woman thanked Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei and hurried back to her village where there was total chaos!. Everyone was talking at once, children were crying, men were screaming at each other. As soon as she held the feather over her head, all became quiet! No one could utter a sound! the holy woman proceeded to give the directions given to her by the gods. She then passed the feather to the first man. He called the Talking Circle together, and each man had his say as he held the feather. From that time on that tribe flourished because they now had direction, and each person could hear and understand what their peers said. The people worked together, to build a great nation. Along the way, they shared the wonders of the Talking Feather with other tribes they met. “And that my friends is the true story of how the Talking Feather came to be!”