Calgary descendant of Blackfoot woman who survived 1870 massacre creates production telling her story

WATCH: Some creative Calgarians are bringing a bit of history to life: a shocking story of cruelty and courage. Even a century-and-a-half after it happened, there’s a powerful personal connection to a family member at the centre of it all. Gil Tucker reports.

The actors playing horses in a Calgary rehearsal hall are snorting and moving in a restless fashion, indicating they sense danger.

They’re recreating the lead up to a deadly raid on Jan. 23, 1870, in Blackfoot territory in Montana.

Maj. Eugene Baker of the U.S. Army led an attack that killed about 200 Blackfoot, mostly elders, women and children.

It came to be known as the Baker Massacre, with one of the few survivors now the subject of a new production by Calgary’s Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society.

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Called “Okotoks,” it tells the story of Holy Bear Woman, who was around 12-years-old at the time.

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“Okotoks is actually a Blackfoot word that means rock or rocks,” writer and director Justin Many Fingers said.

Many Fingers is certainly the rock at the centre of the production, not only creating the shape of the story, but is also a descendant of Holy Bear Woman.

“(She’s my) great-great-great-great grandmother,” Many Fingers said. “So there’s something that was so embedded in me to continuously try to seek out what the story was.”

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The story focuses on Holy Bear Woman’s strength and resilience.

“She put her body through so much pain, having all these children,” Many Fingers said. “I think she had almost 14 children, because she knew that a bloodline could easily be erased.”

“I feel proud knowing that our people have gone through something like this,” cast member Stephanie Brave Rock said. “And we’re still here.”

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“Okotoks” will be performed on Feb. 26 and 27 at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary.

“I just hope I do it enough justice,” Many Fingers said. “That I’m able to give her back that voice, that continues to my bloodline.”

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