SARSEE INDIANS DANCING IN CALGARY
The young Sarsee Indians in this picture are creating Native American dances for a tourist public. By 1891 the last days of the warriors had passed, the frontier was rapidly giving way to a more settled and peaceful life, and the twentieth century was rapidly approaching. Frontiers would no longer be measured across the middle of the country. Young men such as those pictured would not have direct memory of the pre-reservation days although their parents and grandparents would remember them well. Native American economy was now based largely on tourism rather than hunting, trading, and raiding. The effort was to provide shows that would entertain tourists, principally coming from the East. Accuracy was not always as important as excitement. People seem to have wanted to believe that the Wild West was still there and the Native Americans were key figures in the fantasy.
The type of tourist show established in the late nineteenth century persists today in many places. In some areas the dances and other ceremonials adhere closely to the traditional culture, as in the Pueblo Southwest, but many have little to do with native culture as recorded earlier.
The Sarsee lived at the far northwestern edge of the Great Plains, in what is now Alberta, Canada. It is of interest to note that what is known as a reservation in the U.S. is called a reserve in Canada.
This photograph was taken with a Kodak camera and represents an early version of the tourist “snapshot.” The round picture format was used in the early Kodaks and was discontinued in favor of the modern square image about 1897.