What started as an initiative by Aboriginal Services to keep First Nation traditions alive on campus is growing in popularity with the student population according to Myeengun Henry, Manager of Aboriginal Services at Conestoga.
An estimated 1,700 visitors attended this year’s traditional powwow on February 25, nearly tripling last year’s attendance of about 600.
Henry said the purpose of the powwow is to bring the community together to learn about Canada’s original people and to keep the traditions of those people alive. Traditional dance, drumming, food and crafts as well as speakers on topics of interest to the area’s First Nation population and the general public were to be found in abundance at this year’s event.
The powwow featured 118 dancers performing many different styles of First Nation dance. Many were from Toronto, and most were from southern Ontario. Henry said there are no formal classes for learning traditional dance. Instead, children brought to powwows are encouraged to watch the dancers and develop whichever style speaks to them. Dancers create their own regalia, and it often becomes a family activity, bringing families together.
Some of the most breathtaking action came from the highly skilled hoop dancers. Henry said that everyone attending the powwow “just stops” when the hoop dancers start performing. It’s a demanding style of dance that requires flexibility, co-ordination (the feet must keep in time with the drum beat), and the ability to juggle many, many hoops. “Not everyone can do it,” Henry said. Dancers make patterns with the hoops, which represent different aspects of life. At the end of the dance, the dancer holds up the hoops, interwoven into a ball, to represent the earth.
Traditional food at this year’s powwow included corn soup with kidney beans and salt pork - a traditional favourite - as well as fried bread and “Indian tacos.” Henry said in the future he would like to offer some traditional meats for attendees to try, such as moose and deer meat.
There were several speakers throughout the day, including George Kennedy, who spoke about “some important Original Peoples and Canadian history that nobody really talks about,” according to the day agenda. This included the story of the Wampum belt, which has two stripes that run parallel. According to Henry, the stripes represent two lifestyles - that of Canada’s original peoples and that of the Europeans who emigrated during the 1700s. The message of the belt was that as long as the two parties went their own way and did not interfere with each other, they could live in peace. “The paths should never cross,” Henry explained.
Except, of course, if there is mutual respect. The support shown for Conestoga’s annual Traditional Powwow provides a powerful example of what can happen when differences are respected and embraced.
Story by Elissa Den Hoed , second-year student in Conestoga's Print-Journalism program.