Westview resident’s painting of Indigenous chief donated to Piikani Nation

6 January 2024

Two longtime friends re-connected at Silvera’s Westview Town Suites last year, and their reunion resulted in a unique donation of a painting to the Piikani Nation.

The story of the two friends goes back nearly 50 years, when Pauline Dempsey ran the Bannock Booth at the Stampede’s Indian Village, and Jeanette McClelland-Brookes, a painter for more than 70 years, exhibited her paintings at the Stampede art show. Five decades later, Pauline and Jeanette reconnected when they became neighbours at Westview. Last fall, Pauline saw a painting of former Piikani Chief Nelson Small Legs that Jeanette had painted in the late 1980s and purchased it from Jeanette.

Then last week, at a ceremony, Pauline donated the painting to the Piikani Nation to be hung in their recently renovated council chambers.

Man of Vision is a watercolour depicting Chief Nelson Small Legs on his horse, overlooking the land. Chief Small Legs was known for spreading a message of Indigenous justice and the need for activism.

Pauline, who spent many years volunteering with the Calgary Stampede’s Indian Village, donated the painting in memory of her late husband, author, historian and former Glenbow Museum curator Hugh Dempsey.

Troy Knowlton, who is the nation’s current chief, was on hand to accept the donation on behalf of the Nation.

“It’s great, being able to remember [Chief Nelson Small Legs] today,” says Troy. “When I see [the painting], I hear his voice, I see his demeanour – he carried with him this aura of authority but also caring.”

Jeanette also gifted some items she received from the family to Chief Nelson Small Legs’ grandchildren.

“It’s more than I ever could have wished for,” says Jeanette. “This [was] a long journey for me because I knew this family so well.”

After the unveiling of the painting, attendees and residents shared traditional stew and bannock.

Have a look at some news coverage from the event.