On February 25, Indigenous Services welcomed approximately 5,000 visitors to the thirteenth annual traditional pow wow at the Recreation Centre at the Kitchener - Doon campus. Held in person for the first time since 2020, the event honoured Indigenous culture in a full-day celebration that featured drumming, singing, dancing, artisans and traditional food.
Conestoga's thirteenth annual traditional pow wow welcomed thousands of visitors for a full-day celebration that featured drumming, singing, dancing, artisans and traditional food.
“If you were able to attend the 2020 Conestoga pow wow it was probably the only one you went to that year because two weeks later we were all under lockdown,” said Christina Restoule, manager, Indigenous Services. “For us, this was the first pow wow since then and I think there was a lot of anticipation to come back this year. We are also the first pow wow in this geographical area and we essentially kick off the pow wow season.”
Attendees travelled from as far as Michigan and Wisconsin to join the celebration.
Restoule said the event set record numbers for attendance, but also welcomed 12 drums and 120 registered dancers, including competition dancers, which exceeded participation numbers from past years. The call for vendors also closed within three weeks because of the overwhelming response.
“Having seasoned competition dancers attend a traditional pow wow speaks volumes. That’s something I was really surprised and happy about,” said Restoule. “Competition dancers tend to only travel to competition pow wows and compete against other dancers in their category. There are no competitions involved in traditional pow wows; exhibition dances are for everybody to come and share their gifts as a dancer.”
The event was supported by about two dozen volunteers, several from Conestoga’s Global Business Management program, who were paired with opportunities relating to their area of study. Students Dakota Pilukostiguy and Michelle Rehel served as lead volunteers, and Restoule said support from others also helped with the success of the event.
This year, the pow wow partnered with White Owl Native Ancestry, a non-profit based in Kitchener, to provide food services. Restoule also highlighted the support received from Conestoga Students Inc. (CSI), the college’s student association. As part of its Truth and Reconciliation efforts, CSI’s board now includes an Indigenous director, and during the pow wow, CSI announced it will soon launch a $10,000 Indigenous bursary.
Brock Stonefish, who has completed Conestoga guitar and repair courses, also found a way to support the pow wow by hosting a guitar giveaway for youth in attendance. A musician himself, he offers a program to help connect Indigenous youth to music and encourages them to explore music as a form of self-expression.
“This highlights what it means to Indigenous people to give back and help guide our future generations,” added Restoule.
She also reflected on the life of Jim Moses. Jim was the first Elder to join the Indigenous Services office when it opened in 2010, and Restoule said he was a very important part of establishing what the Elder-in-residence program was going to be.
Jim passed away in September 2022. An honour song during Conestoga’s 2023 pow wow paid tribute to him.
Conestoga’s pow wow was sponsored by Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada, the Southern Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre (SOHAC), which led the pow wow’s Cub Club, and Conestoga Students Inc.
Conestoga’s Be-Dah-Bin Gamik, a Place of New Beginning, provides services and ongoing supports for Indigenous students to assist with a smooth transition to college life. Services include a range of social and cultural events and activities, traditional counselling, and Elders-in-Residence programs.