A beloved Lil’wat tradition is returning to Spud Valley.
The Lil’wat Nation Open Rodeo will take place from May 20 to 22 at the Lillooet Lake Rodeo Grounds in Mount Currie. The three-day event spotlights amateur rodeo stars from across British Columbia, featuring bull riding, steer wrestling, bronc riding and ladies’ barrel racing as the marquee events. Other rodeo staples like team roping and tie-down roping will also be featured.
Cowboys and cowgirls will arrive from as far as Quesnel and the Okanagan Valley to saddle up.
“It’s always a positive thing to be supporting positive events that the community comes together [for], and to showcase our own athletes,” said Lil’wat Nation Chief Dean Nelson. “We’ll hope to see a lot of people there [who will] see what the rodeo is, what it means for the community and the athletes—not just the human athletes but [also] the horses they ride and take care of.”
The competition isn’t just for adults. Teens aged 16 and under will be able to participate in steer riding, barrel racing and breakaway roping, gaining valuable experience as they work their way toward the senior ranks.
Even children who are 10 years old and younger will have an opportunity to be part of the festivities by way of pee-wee barrel racing. In this event, kids ride on a horse led by a parent or guardian, who aids them in navigating through a series of barrels.
“Those little legs can barely reach the stirrups, but they’re just getting familiar with the event and as well connecting with their horse, so it’s quite a thing for our very young,” remarked Lil’wat Nation Councillor Maxine Bruce.
A COVID-necessitated two-year hiatus couldn’t dampen the spirits of Mount Currie rodeo fans, who returned with fervour in 2022. According to Bruce, last year’s iteration of the contest reached a single-day attendance high of more than 1,100 people—too many for the area’s existing bleachers to accommodate. Fortunately, rodeo organizers have raised enough funds to purchase newer, larger bleachers from Alberta.
A rich heritage
Mount Currie has historically produced a respectable number of cowboys. Bruce has been involved with the Lillooet Lake rodeo for about a decade, but says that it dates back to the 1970s and was once frequented by all sorts of colourful characters—including Hells Angels bikers and the occasional uninvited guest.
“I remember my mom laughing in the audience [one year] because there were some streakers running across the rodeo arena,” Bruce recalled.
Nowadays, a new generation of athletes is champing at the bit to make their mark.
“There’s a few of our guys that have been putting a lot of effort into the sport of bull riding, and then we have a lot of our young ladies that are going into the equestrian sports, like barrel racing,” Bruce said. “The way that they train together with their horses is such an amazing thing, just to see how much they care for [them].”
Bruce added that support for the Lil’wat Rodeo has been “overwhelming” in the past, with Mount Currie residents often inquiring about the event months before it takes place. Nonetheless, any and all sponsorship from local businesses and the Village of Pemberton (VOP) in terms of prizes, supplies and cash donations will continue to be important.
At the May 9 Village of Pemberton council meeting, Pemberton’s elected representatives agreed to put $500 towards supporting the pee-wee barrel race.
An official sponsorship request signed by Nelson estimated the rodeo’s total costs at more than $90,000. Expenses include the need to arrange for ambulance services, pay judges and announcers, rent out portable toilets, and compensate livestock contractors for providing the animals that will star in the show.
The rodeo is scheduled to kick off on Saturday, May 20 with a parade on what locals call “Fun Day.” Guests of all ages are invited to partake in various carnival-style activities such as footraces, pie and watermelon eating contests, and an infamous tug of war that pits men against women. Normal rodeo disciplines will begin in earnest the following day.
“Fun Day isn’t so much a rodeo, but a community event that everyone comes out to and participates in,” said Nelson. “It’s a very fun, [family-oriented] time.”
More information is available online at lilwat.ca/open-rodeo.