- [VO] This reporting was supported by the International Women's Media Foundation's fund for Indigenous journalists, reporting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two-Spirit, and Transgender people: MMIWG2T.
♪ - The Indian National Finals Rodeo.
♪ (metal gate clanking) ♪ - When I say those words, I think of resilience and pride.
[tapping percussion/ vocalizations] ♪ [rapid percussion] [slow keyboard music/ vocalizations] ♪ - It's the Native Americans in the rodeo world.
♪ (metal gate clanking) ♪ ♪ Power, power ♪ ♪ I'm goin' higher, higher ♪ ♪ I break my bones, I'll lose control ♪ ♪ but I'll be shinin' brighter.
♪ ♪ Thank God I find the lighter ♪ ♪ into my soul on fire.
♪ ♪ Now, watch the underdogs win, win, win ♪ ♪ from their sheer defiance.
♪ ♪ Power, power ♪ ♪ I'm goin' higher, higher ♪ ♪ I break my bones, I'll lose control ♪ ♪ but I'll be shinin' brighter.
♪ ♪ Thank God I find the lighter ♪ ♪ into my soul on fire.
♪ ♪ Now, watch the underdogs win, win, win ♪ ♪ from their sheer defiance (defiance) ♪ [PA announcer speaking; muffled voice] (bang!)
- [PA announcer] Hey, I'm glad they got here!
Somebody make a little noise, at least!
[crowd applauding; making rattling sounds] [PA announcer speaking; muffled voice] (metal clanking and banging) (clanking and banging) [clanking and banging sounds] ♪ [slow acoustic guitar music] ♪ ♪ I woke up this morning ♪ ♪ where the sunshine heals overhead ♪ ♪ ♪ And, I brewed my coffee- ♪ - [Perse] INFR has been around since the mid-'70s.
Some folks came together and wanted to have an all Indian Professional Rodeo Association.
And so it was founded, then.
We're 11 regions across the U.S. and Canada.
We have over 400 contestants that compete here during our finals rodeo, but we have rodeos all year long, throughout the United States and Canada.
♪ Thank God for my job.
♪ ♪ I got it straight out of the pen.
♪ - This event is huge.
We start planning as soon as it ends!
We have a large vendor area.
So we have vendors that come from all over, also.
So, the thing that is so special about INFR is that we are about family, and we're about our culture and our people and our tribes.
And, I think that that's really special and something different, especially within the Las Vegas area.
- [Shayla] I'd say it's probably like just a bunch of Indians (laughs) coming to do what they love, and that's the sport of rodeo.
And bringing their Western way of life and letting other people know that, like, Indians do this.
And, we're not just living in tipis.
We love rodeo.
We love the Western way.
We love cowboying, cowgirling and stuff like that.
So, it's fun.
It's exciting, but rewarding.
- I love Indian rodeo.
Just the whole family tradition, the values, the reason why we're doing it.
I've been around rodeo ever since I could remember, probably in diapers!
I'm raising my kids around rodeo.
I have two children, two boys, three and nine.
So, they know rodeo is just a family tradition.
- Pretty much it's for all us indigenous people.
We all come from all different reservations.
And, we come here to South Point to compete with one another.
And, this circle here, we all come as one nation.
We all come as a tribe, and we all enjoy to have that sportsmanship to compete as indigenous cowboys and cowgirls.
- [Perse] So, the arena's blessed before we start our event.
You know, we ask an elder to come and the whole, you know, all of our spaces are smudged.
We, at the commissioner level, we start our meetings with prayer.
We always have the flag song.
So that's, you know, a requirement at all of the performances.
You know, we come here and we maintain who we are.
We don't change because this is rodeo, or this is a championship, or we're in Vegas.
We bring all of that with us, and we all identify with that.
And, it brings us together on that first day.
You know, we're like, we're Indian people, and everybody else come, too.
You know, we want you to be around us and to get to know us and to celebrate our champions with us, too.
- [Arena Announcer] Ladies and gentlemen, [louder voice] the contestants of the 2022 INFR brought to you by our INFR commissioner!
[crowd shouting/cheering/ applauding] ♪ [hopeful guitar music] ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ - [Bailey] My name is Bailey Bates.
I am Diné from Naakai Bito, New Mexico.
My clans are Tó tsohnii (Big Water) nishli', Tódích'ii'nii (Bitter Water) bashishchiin, Naasht'ezhí Dine'é Tachii'nii dashicheii (The Charcoal Streaked of the Red Running into the Water) And, I am a breaker roper here at the Indian National Finals Rodeo.
♪ - [Bailey] Rodeo is a family sport.
I mean, not everything, but it means a lot to us.
It keeps me sane, and it's something that I really love and I'm passionate about.
I went and got an education and I could be starting my career and focusing on my career, but somethin' about rodeo just calls me and that's what I want to do.
And, especially the horses.
I love my horses and that's what keeps my mental health.
It's going right now!
(she laughs) - [Mykayla] My name is Mykayla Tatsey.
I am from Browning, Montana.
I live on the Blackfeet reservation, Amskapi Pikani.
I compete in the ladies breakaway roping.
I started roping when I was 15.
I've always just been around horses, and one day, I just decided to pick up a rope and I'm really glad I did.
There is a lot of dedication that goes into it.
It's just like any other sport or any other extracurricular activity.
If you want to be good at it, you have to put the work in.
♪ - [Arena Announcer] Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe; from Eagle Butte, South Dakota; winner of the Home of the Champions Tour Rodeo in North Dakota earlier this year.
[electronic music] [loud fast rock music] - [Arena Announcer] Oh, man!
Not the way we wanted to start the week, but that's alright.
We wish her luck on down.
- [Jewel] My name is Jewel Bettelyoun.
I'm from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, and I am here at the INFR in the ladies breakaway.
We can all come together as one here, and cheer each other on and work hard for it, and that-- it makes us try harder and work harder for it.
And, I've done it since I was a little girl; competed in rodeos when I was small, growing up through high school.
And then, me and my husband got married.
That's how we met, was through rodeo.
And then, I had my little girl and she went with us.
And now she competes in rodeo, also.
She has since she was little.
- [Perse] We're a family event.
So, in addition to our main championship, we also have a junior and senior championship.
So, it's the only rodeo where grandpa can compete.
The, you know, granddaughter can compete, parents.
I mean, everybody comes and has a good time.
And, we all know each other, you know?
So it's like, everybody watches out for the kids.
Everybody knows everybody.
They're traveling all year long with each other.
So, we're all relatives, really, by the time we get to this point.
- [Mykayla] Indian rodeo's really good because they include both junior and senior events.
So, the juniors are zero to 16 and then the, I believe, the seniors are 50-plus.
So, you could have your grandpa, your dad, your kids competing right alongside of you in the open.
So in the summertime, we travel as a family.
There's usually seven or eight of us in one rig with four or five horses going down the road 20 hours at a time.
We have all of our kids competing and part of the activity in the rodeo.
If they're not competing, they're doing other things, roping the dummy.
It's just a family tradition, really.
And just being part of the Native circle.
We're all related.
♪ (metal gate clanking) [slow country guitar] ♪ ♪ - [Kirby] Yá'át'ééh shí eí Kirby Spencer éí yinishyé.
Kinyaa'áanii (Towering House) nishli' adó, Tsi'naaji'nii (Black Streak Wood People) bashishchiin Tsé Níjíkiní (Honey Combed Rock or Cliff Dwellers) dashicheii, Kinyaa'áanii (Towering House) dashinalí.
Ni leí Diwoozhibiito (Greasewood, Arizona) iyiisi de naashá (is where I am from), éí hwe'táá éí saad behaasziid.
(that's how I present myself) Ahéhee.
(thank you) ♪ ♪ - [Kirby] My name is Kirby Spencer.
I'm a bareback rider.
I ride bareback horses.
I'm originally from Greasewood, Arizona.
I represent the Diné tribe.
I have been riding bareback horses.
This is my first year doing it.
And, I really accomplished a lot of things this year, as the first time riding my bareback.
And, I started off with steer riding.
I went to junior bulls and I rode bulls all year long.
And this year, you know, I really wanted to come out and to ride more of the bucking horses more this year.
So, I did.
And, I qualified this year at the last chance qualifier at New Town, North Dakota.
So, glad to be here with you guys.
I do my own sewing.
I make my own outfits, my clothes here.
I've been sewing for 10 years professionally.
I did really good with my artwork, with my sewing.
I have artwork all over the place.
I mean, even across the United States and into Canada and Mexico, and Paris, you know?
That's how far my artwork went.
And, it's like a blessing, you know, where I'm coming from.
My grandmas were all weavers.
They've made horse blankets, and I picked it up through them.
♪ - [Perse] INFR is, in addition to being our own association and having our own events, a lot of our cowboys and cowgirls are also contestants with the PRCA and other rodeo associations.
So, they get a lot of practice here.
You know, they get to perform in the bright lights of Vegas, and then go on, you know, through PRCA or PBR, and compete in those championships, as well.
But, it really gives them that opportunity.
- [Shayla] I'm Shayla Conner.
I'm 23 years old and I'm Northern Cheyenne.
I was currently Miss Sheridan WYO rodeo, and that's a PRCA rodeo queen.
So, it's kind of like a beauty pageant.
There was like, "well, what's your talent?"
And I say, "well, the talent is your horseback, your horsemanship."
But, I ended up winning, and I've had a ride of my life!
So my grandma, she was the first Northern Cheyenne to hold the Sheridan WYO Rodeo Queen title.
And then, I got to be the second Northern Cheyenne.
So, I got to keep it in the family and then also, same tribe.
So, that's super fun!
So, we come from a long line, three generation of a ranch.
We raise bucking horses in eastern Montana on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Kirby.
So, we have the rough stock.
And then also, we have, like, my personal horses that I run barrels on.
It's definitely a lot of dedication to it.
I'd probably say about, like, half of your life because like, your horse is your best friend.
You want to make sure your horse is up-to-date, because it's like kind of a cheesy saying in barrel racing, like, "three cans, two hearts, one dream."
But, it's so true.
Because like, if you're not taking good care of your animal, every day, feeding, watering, exercising, then you're not going to get the outcomes, like, that you want.
But then, you also have to take care of yourself.
You have to make sure you're healthy; you're doing the things (horse whinnies) to stay on top of your horse and all that.
So like, you definitely have to dedicate, like, half your life to it.
It's definitely not a weekend thing, for sure!
- [Jewel] You got to put a lot of time in with your horses, as far as keeping them in shape.
And then practicing, you know, every day.
I mean, practice makes perfect.
But, you still have to work really hard at it to keep your horses in shape so they are ready, also.
They're like my kids.
[Bailey] It takes every day.
From waking moment you think-- first thing you think of is your horses.
You got to feed your horses and exercise and you got to put in the work, practice every day.
It might sound exhausting, but if you love it, it's-- the days go by really fast and next thing you know, you're just doing it every day and (she chuckles) you're just living life!
And the more that you work at it, the more that confidence you gain.
And, the more you believe in yourself.
I think that's what it takes to get here.
Hard work and belief.
I think that's one thing that I struggle with, and I think a lot of people might struggle with is belief.
But not only are we Native Americans, we are cowboys.
"Modern natives" (she chuckles) is what you could call us!
- [Kirby] I think about it is-- it's really of who we are.
I mean, what we're coming from.
I mean, we live off the land.
We live off the, you know, whatever we have.
You know, like for my example for me, I have nothing around my reservation.
Or, there's no gym, there's nothing.
So, we have to climb mountains; we have to run in sand dunes, and (clanking) that's where it makes us stronger.
- [Announcer] Let's go to work with Kirby Spencer!
- [Kirby] Because we have to fight for to be here and to challenge ourselves, and it's different.
I mean, livin' in the city limit, you have gyms; you have everything around there.
But home, you have to chop wood, haul water and stack hay, you know, just to keep yourself occupied, to keep yourself fit.
That's how indigenous, you know, cowboys and cowgirls do it.
- [Announcer] Kirby!
- [Kirby] Back at home, I really just run on top of the hills and [buzzer sounds off] I ride a lot of horses.
I usually just get up in the morning; I run, exercise.
And then through that I maintain the animals, the sheep, the horses.
And then, I, as being here this far, I have to say it was through my prayers and my songs that got me here; through my grandparents teachings, you know?
For them to tell me "do it on your own.
"Nobody else ain't gonna do it for you.
"You have to get up on your own to challenge yourself to become somebody."
So, it takes a prayer to commit yourself to do something.
That's what I did this year.
And, I'm really blessed to be here among these cowboys and cowgirls.
And to be here at the Indian National Finals here in Las Vegas at South Point, it was a dream.
Now, it's not a dream no more.
It's a dream come true.
- [Shayla] You start digging on horses when you're five years old.
Even when you're-- maybe in your momma's tummy!
(laughs) And then, you know, you're riding with her.
Like, I started riding when I was eight, because I was-- first, I was a little scared of horses, but then I started getting comfortable.
And then, I just took off and my parents can never catch me!
(Shayla chuckles) Get me off of a horse!
And for the INFR it's, like, a week long.
So, you got to really make sure you pack really good, like-!
(laughs) And, you have my favorite, the classic: bronc riding.
And then you have barrel racing, of course.
And then, you see breakaway.
And you have calf roping, team roping, bulldogging.
Competing as a female rodeo person, it's definitely cool to see because here at the INFR, we've had breakaway.
But, if you want to get bigger and try to go PRCA and get to the NFR?
NFR is now bringing breakaway into their program.
So, it's cool to have women to have that other opportunity to perform and to showcase their talent, as well.
- [Jewel] It's challenging, but it also gives you the drive to push harder.
So, as a mom.
And, when my little girl was little-- like, as you're-- you got to fit the practicing in.
And, still be a mom and a wife.
And, like, you got to focus on the whole family and not just you.
But, you also got to push harder for everybody.
So, it makes you work harder at it.
- [Mykayla] So, a lot of us have been roping for years together!
So, they're like family.
They're like our sisters.
So when they're winning, we're winning.
We're happy for them.
And if we have a bad draw, or we throw one in the dirt.
They're, you know, they pick us up.
And, if we win the round, then they're happy for us.
- [Arena Announcer] Oh!
We got fans, JJ!
They got their signs and everything!
- [Announcer 2] I love it!
- [Bailey] In the Native American rodeo world, there are a lot of fans; a lot!
And, that is...something that I'm starting to realize is how much people look up to you.
(horses whinny) I mean, all I do is-- I don't think of people looking up to me.
I just put in my work and it's just what I want to do.
It's what my heart wants to do, and that's what I work at.
And, it kind of mind boggles me that that's what people look up to.
I don't really know how to describe it, but I realize that Native Americans are really big fans!
(she laughs) - [Shayla] Yeah.
So, I got to be featured in COWGIRL magazine, I think in March.
And, like, that was a big deal for me!
I'm like, what?!
Like, fan girl!
I'm in COWGIRL?
I fill like-?
Like, a whole five, five pages.
I was like, "Whoa!
I love it!"
But anyway, it just talks about my story.
And, the MMIW; how I'm spreading awareness, and a little bit about me growing up in rodeo, me being rodeo queen and what I'm doing to hopefully make a difference.
♪ - [Perse] I think rodeo, just as a sport overall, is not a sport where I think you hear a lot, you know, where the politics come in.
But, I think it's important.
I think, as Native people we're more aware of how do we raise our voices?
How do we, you know, make sure that our issues are heard and acknowledged?
And, I think our-- you know, our athletes are able to have a platform here, and it's something that we all share.
You know, especially issues like MMIW.
We all have family members.
You know, we're-- we're different tribes, but same experiences.
So, you know, we have the platform here, but then they are part of those larger associations and are able to draw attention through those activities.
Also to the, you know, to the public, because dominant society isn't always aware of what's happening within our communities.
And it's really important, you know, that this issue raise more visibility, and I-- you know, I think that's happening.
- [Mykayla] I just think it's really important because our families are so close that we either know somebody that's missing, murdered, and indigenous part of our family or a close family friend, or we know somebody that's going through the hard times.
And just like any other sport, or tradition, or like powwows, we use our horse as our connection.
And, the dancers go out there and dance for the people that can't dance.
So, we're riding for the people that can't ride.
- [Jewel] To think that there's moms, daughters, sisters, wives out there that are missing and not knowing what has happened to them or having a closure on any of that?
I couldn't imagine going through something like that of my own with my own family.
So, in whatever way that we can make it aware, you know, put the awareness out there for MMIW.
That's what we need to do.
- [Shayla] So Wednesday, you have the chance to wear red.
And so, that means we're raising awareness for the MMIW.
And if you don't know what that means, it's for missing, murdered indigenous women and people.
- [Perse] Yeah.
Wednesday is a big day for us.
It's new within the past five years, you know.
We recognize-- we just call it our "MMIW Day."
And, we encourage everyone to wear red.
It's in our ground rules.
So for contestants, you know, it's highly recommended that you wear red.
It's really catching on!
I saw a lot of people in red yesterday, which made me really excited.
I saw a lot of-- I know a lot of us are wearing our ribbon skirts, too, because I think that goes along with wearing red is also, you know, saying like we're Native women, and we deserve to be seen, to be protected, to be safe.
And, I think we just really put it out there on that day.
I wish we could have different issues.
You know, I wish it didn't have to be such a serious issue for us.
But it is, and at least we're talking about it, you know?
It's not new.
And with INFR being in Canada and the U.S., I think this is really a good cross-border issue, too, you know, that we share.
- Canada, I did a...
I did a couple of dresses.
And then, I did one for a young lady that was representing the missing and murdered woman's, the MMIW.
It was a red dress, to remember them.
Because some of this to this day, you know, some are still missing.
And there's a hummingbird that is on that dress represents beauty.
And then, there's different colors in there.
There's white, representing the light; and then, there's blue in there representing water.
And then as that dress came up to here, it represented the females.
And then, you see her face, and the woman's gonna bring life back into this world.
And, that's how it's going to keep rolling, keep moving.
So, that's how I created that dress for her.
♪ - I think that it is great that they are wanting to put a spotlight on MMIW.
I travel alone with my horses and my dog!
(laughs) That's what I do!
And, I think that spreading the awareness of MMIW is something that's really important.
And, I'm grateful that the INFR is putting the spotlight on this.
And, it's so huge.
Because...our safety should be our number one concern and our priority, especially being Native women.
- [Arena Announcer 1] Fi nal breakaway roper for 2022, for all the marbles!
Bailey Bates; a 6 and 89.
It is time to respond now!
- [Announcer 2] Bailey Bates.
- [Announcer 1] Bailey Bates!!
- [Announcer 2] I mean, about 2:06 and just shut the door!
World Champion, Bailey Bates!
- [Bailey] Being Native American we have a lot of pride and we have resilience is what we have.
Embrace who you are.
I'm still learning myself to do that.
It's-- I don't think it's gonna end.
But, have confidence in yourself and believe in yourself, and don't be afraid to stretch your neck out there and do whatever you want to do.
Just as long as you're happy.
♪ - [Perse] We've been in Vegas for over 10 years.
We have really great partnerships with Teton Ridge, with PBR.
We're really looking at "where do we go from here?"
And, I think we just go bigger and better.
You know, we don't want to make it elitist to where we don't have all the families competing.
We have to just figure out what it is that we want to see, and what is special about us.
And, being Native, including our culture, that history, you know, celebrating one another is really what is central and where we see ourselves moving forward towards.
♪ [vocalizing/ keyboard music] ♪ [shakers shaking] [mellow acoustic country guitar] ♪ ♪ ♪ [soft vocalizing/ acoustic guitar] ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪