Music History in southwestern Alberta

By Galt Guest Curator Tyler Stewart

Can you imagine a day without music? It surrounds us in our daily lives, from alarm clock radios, to car stereos, commercial jingles, and our smartphones - giving us access to the entire recorded history of humankind at the touch of a fingertip. But it wasn't always this way. Music used to be a relatively rare occurrence when Lethbridge was first settled. However, for the Blackfoot people (Siksikaitsitapi), music has always been an integral part of their existence.

You could say that the Blackfoot were the first musicians in this area - known now as southern Alberta - using song, dance and drums to celebrate their sacred relationship with the Creator (Ihtsipaitapiiyo’pa). During ceremonies such as bundle openings and the Sundance (Aako’ka’tssin), music plays a prominent role in the continuation of stories and legends, connecting Blackfoot people to their culture, the natural world around them, and the spiritual realm beyond.

These musical traditions continue today on a regular basis, with local and regional pow-wows being one of the main community celebrations of music, open and welcoming the public to attend as well. In fact, Lethbridge plays host every year to the International Peace Pow-Wow and Festival (taking place this year Feb. 25-26), one of the largest annual gatherings of its kind.

Aboriginal artists are also making music in a contemporary context as well, with artists like Tanya Tagaq and Buffy Sainte-Marie achieving international success. On a local level, country artist Armond Duck Chief is a rising star making waves on a national level, winning “Best Country CD” and “Songwriter of the Year” at the 2015 Indigenous Music Awards, along with a nomination for “Best Aboriginal Album” at the 2016 Juno Awards.

Learn more about First Nations musical traditions and the history of music in southwestern Alberta by visiting “From Pianos to Power Chords” a new temporary exhibition at the Galt Museum & Archives, on until April 30.

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