How to powwow Canadian style

The first time I got invited to a powwow, I was both curious and surprised — my First Nations friends tend to joke with me about being “church candle white.” But when I arrived at the National Indian Cultural Conference at Duck Lake, SK, and was welcomed as Susan Muskrat, in a circle of people with names like Mr. and Mrs. Old Elk and Nancy Rabbitskin, I knew I would fit right in.

Powwow means “gathering or celebration.” Traditionally, the powwow took place when families and friends were reunited in the spring after the long, harsh north-of-49 winters when they were forced to uproot to find food. You don’t have to be of First Nations ancestry to join in; in a circle, no one is higher than anyone else, and everyone is considered equal.

Remember that Captain and Tennille song, ” Muskrat Love“? Well, that first night in Duck Lake I fell in my own kind of muskrat love, hunkered down in my personal tipi, smelling of fry bread and woodsmoke, being lulled asleep by the drum group Frog Lake and the tinkling of the women’s jingle dresses covered with hundreds of small tin cones as they danced lightly over the ground. I couldn’t have been more at peace. Ever since, I’ve been thinking about following the powwow trail — for the good times, the drumming, dancing, singing, the contests and especially, the traditional food.

Here’s a sample of British Columbia powwows you could turn up for this summer. Click here for tips on how to powwow.

1. July, North Vancouver – Squamish Nation 22nd Annual Pow Wow, Squamish Nation Capilano Reserve Park. One of the oldest and largest powwows in the west, and easy to get to from Vancouver. Expect to see beautiful regalia, traditional dancing and drumming, crafts for sale, and BBQ salmon and bannock if you work up an appetite. Plenty of room for camping.

2. July, Squilax Bridge, east of ChaseSquilax Pow Wow, Squilax Pow Wow Grounds. Dancers, drummers and singers come from First Nations from across the Prairies to participate in 11 dance categories, from Golden Age Women and Jingle Dress Dance to Hoop Dance and Grass Dance.

3. July, Salmon Arm – Switzmalph Cultural Day & Pow Wow, Switzmalph Cultural Centre. Lots to take in here: archery, atlatl, tours of the village, native theatre and more.

4. July, Chilliwack – Spirit of the People Pow Wow, Canlan Icesports Prospera Centre. The Prospera Centre seats up to 500. “We want everyone to know this event is open to all people, which is why it is called the Spirit of the People Pow Wow,” says one organizer. There’s a princess pageant and a native artist market, as well as a hand-drum contest. Hand-drumming is a west coast tradition, and a whole different experience than listening to the big powwow drums.

5. July/August, Kamloops – Kamloopa Pow Wow, Secwepemc Pow Wow Grounds. Another of the biggest powwows in Western Canada, organized by the Secwepemc First Nation alongside the South Thompson River a few minutes outside Kamloops. Dancing, feasting and storytelling.

6. 4th weekend in July, Abbotsford – First Nations Pavilion Celebrations, Tradex at the Abbotsford Airport. This powwow honours the survival and adaptation of Aboriginal culture in Canada. You’ll see west coast dance groups along with Métis performers, lots of arts and crafts. Raffles, too.

7. Late August, Neskonlith Reserve, west of Chase – 9th annual Neskonlith Traditional Pow Wow, takes place each year at the same time on the Neskonlith Reserve. People start arriving on Friday for a blessing of the grounds. The Grand Entry takes place at noon on Saturday and Sunday. As well as dancing, singing, crafts and traditional food, this powwow includes a Cllqmews ( Stick Games) tournament.

Article courtesy of the Canadian Tourism Commission.

Photo © Robert Eanes