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Carter Yellowbird has a lengthy list of accomplishments in various fields, and later this year he’ll add another prestigious accolade. The 46-year-old from Alberta’s Samson Cree First Nation in Hobbema will be recognized in the Lifetime Achievement category at the Dreamcatcher Foundation’s awards night.
The awards ceremony is scheduled for Oct. 11 in Hamilton, Ont.
Yellowbird, the president of the Canadian Indian Rodeo Cowboys Association (CIRCA), is being honoured for his extensive work in the sport.
“I think that’s the biggest award I’ve gotten in my life,” he said.
The awards are handed out annually to Aboriginal individuals who have worked with youth or community groups at the grassroots level.
Besides the Lifetime Achievement category, awards are also presented to recipients in the following categories; sports, arts and entertainment, community and culture, health and medicine, education and human rights.
Yellowbird is in the first year of a three-year term as president of the CIRCA. The association changed its name after Yellowbird became president. It was previously called the Northern Alberta Native Cowboys Association.
“I enjoy the position,” he said. “It’s something I like doing. Rodeo has given so much to me in my life. It’s enriched my life in so many ways. I want to give something back. This is my way of doing that.”
Yellowbird said the name change was necessary as the association runs events throughout the province. And it will also stage an event in Saskatchewan this year.
CIRCA officials are also keen to organize a rodeo in British Columbia in 2013.
“By the end of the presidency I’m hoping there will be events in Manitoba and maybe in eastern Canada,” Yellowbird said.
Yellowbird started competing in rodeo events in order to make some money after he left home by himself at age 16 and moved to California.
He decided to drop out of high school and leave home in part because his parents were separating. Also, suicides and drugs had taken the lives of 12 of his friends and he was not interested in being around these dire situations.
Besides working some odd jobs, Yellowbird did start to make some money by faring well at rodeo events in the United States.
He returned to his home province and made a bit of history in the early ’90s. Yellowbird is believed to have been the first Cree to compete in the calf roping event at the world famous Calgary Stampede in 1991. He also participated in the same event in ’92.
Yellowbird has also competed in the Indian National Finals Rodeo a whopping 20 times, most recently in 2009. Though he has never won a championship at this event, held annually in either Nevada or New Mexico, he’s been a runner-up in calf roping and team roping competitions numerous times.
Yellowbird also spent a few years overseas. From 1995-97 he was a cast member of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show at Disneyland Paris.
Yellowbird, who previously only had a Grade 9 education, realized the importance of continued education as an adult. He went back to school and eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Native Arts from the University of Alberta in 2003.
Yellowbird also received a Masters degree in Business Administration from Athabasca University in June of this year.
“One of the most important aspects in life is education,” Yellowbird said. “Education is the most important insurance to have in life. With education more people are calling me and I have more opportunities than I did when I was rodeoing.”
Up until this past year Yellowbird was working as the co-ordinator of the Samson Education Trust Fund, where for the past half dozen years he managed up to $30 million.
Yellowbird now runs his own consulting company, where he helps to bring different industries to various First Nations.
A message Yellowbird wants to get across to other Aboriginals is that it’s okay to venture away from home for other opportunities.
“It’s possible to get off the reserve and still retain their culture and identity,” he said.
Despite his age, Yellowbird has not abandoned his own rodeo career. And he has no plans to do so.
“I still compete,” he said. “Rodeo is in my blood.”
It’s also a sport where people of all ages take part.
“There are people out there who are 70 years old and still competing,” he said. “And there are kids out there who are 10 years old and competing. They all come together to compete in rodeos.”
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