The 13th annual Powwow hosted by St. Paul’s Aboriginal Centre and the City of Waterloo, was brought to Waterloo Park on Sept. 24. A powwow is an indiginous cultural gathering where people come together for singing and dancing.
According to the Waterloo Aboriginal Education Centre co-ordinator Lu Lentz, “Sometimes there are cultural ceremonies that are more for a community or for certain people, but this is one that everybody is welcome to … [in order] to learn about First Nations culture or within indigenous communities to learn about each other.”
“We average about 2,500 people every year … this is the first year that we’ve actually partnered with the city, and this is the first year where we actually moved the powwow,” events co-ordinator Shawn Johnston said. “It’s usually held here at St. Paul’s just out on the field … so due to campus expansion, we moved it this year and now we have a working relationship with the city.”
The event space was large, with the vendors and booths bordering the event area and the master of ceremonies’ tent in the centre. The vendors sold handmade objects from clothes and jewellery to pottery and instruments. People of all ages and ethnicities filled the park and gathered around the arena.
During the grand entry, master of ceremonies and Jukasa radio host Adrian Harjo introduced the flag and eagle staff carriers, as well as the head dancers who walked around the arena. After the anthem and the veterans’ song to honour those who served in a conflict, Harjo introduced people from the community, including the principal of St. Paul’s, Rick Myers, KW MPP Catherine Fife, and MP Bardish Chagger, to speak to the crowd.
“I just wanted to take a moment to commend all the people that make this happen. So respect to our ancestors, respect to our elders, respect to the people who have joined us, and especially the volunteers and the hard-working staff that put it together,” Chagger said.
Harjo, the MC, asked attendees not to take photos of the ceremonial dance and invited
people to join in on the intertribal and social dances, indigenous or not. For each dance, Harjo gave a speech to shed light on the history of the dance.
For instance, on the subject of the grass dancers, Harjo said that one interpretation was that “the long fringe and the ribbons of the grass outfit here were meant to represent the long swaying grass of the tall prairies or the sweet grass tufts that the war dancers were wearing off of their outfits a long, long time ago.”
The dancing was accompanied by music from the Little Creek drummers and singing by the male group Spirit Vision. Blue Sky Singers, a female group, also sang traditional songs during the event.
There were many unique dancers, such as the fancy dancers, war dancers, and jingle dancers, all of whom displayed a wonderful show. Many dancers participated in more than one dance and even children participated in the dances. The hoop dancers were also taking donations to attend the Worldwide Championships.
“The purpose of the dancers themselves is to dance for the people who can’t, like the disabled, the elderly, the little ones, the deceased, to heal … dancing and singing for the spirit,” said DJ White, one of the male dancers.
Attendees also took part in the event. Many joined the intertribal and social dances, while others cheered on the dancers, took photos, and placed donations into the donation blankets when they were out. The last dance of the event was a round dance, also known as a friendship dance, where everyone at the event held hands while dancing around the arena. The event ended with the eagle staffs, flags, and dancers all walking out of the arena.
“In organizing the powwow, we’re serving larger purposes than just those of St. Paul’s, and my initial reaction is to think that those purposes are much better served in this location,” Myers said. “We draw more people in from the general public, there’s more space, it’s a nice configuration here — the space is round, and I’m very impressed. If I had to make a decision right now — what do we do in the future — I would keep it right here.”