Powwow season came to an unofficial end as McGill University hosted its fall classic of singing, dancing and culturally diverse entertainment September 21 in downtown Montreal.
Held on a beautiful sunny Friday, the event attracted students and curious onlookers to see head dancer John McComber of Kahnawake and get their fix of dances like the duck and alligator dances. This year, however, coordinator Waneek Horn-Miller added some contemporary flare to the festivities.
Horn-Miller brought in throat singers Louisa Tomassie and Beatrice Deer as well as hoop dancer Lisa Odjig, who was crowned as the first female world champion last year.
Hip hop/pop sensation Kinnie Starr also performed two sets of her Aboriginal-themed, politically charged tunes. The first was a solo effort that illustrated her vocal prowess and catchy beats. The second set was a whirling dervish of house and techno with DJ Eskimo that sent at least two young men into a frenzy of what can best be described as entertaining dance moves.
“I wanted to do that because we’re situated in a university,” said Horn-Miller, who is also Director of McGill’s First People’s House. “A lot of people think we’re stuck in a time warp and that we only dress a certain way.
“I wanted to show the traditional perspective with all the music and the singing, but we wanted to showcase some of the more contemporary music and things that we do. We demonstrate our commonalities by taking rap music and giving it a different flare.”
Visitors to the free event were able to purchase Native handicrafts and jewelry from local communities and as far away as South America.
The McGill Powwow is a compact version of the Kahnawake event, which attracts thousands of people over two days in July. McGill’s version also incorporated an educational component for students.
“I wanted to involve the university community more in the powwow,” said Horn-Miller, who hails from Kahnawake. “So I got students from Kanesatake, Kahnawake and Akwesasne to come and attend half-hour workshops with the faculties of medicine, physical and occupational therapy, social work, education and law. All those faculties gave them a little taste of what it takes to learn those disciplines. It showed them what the courses are like and what the job entails.”
The proceeds benefited McGill’s First People’s House, which offers Native students support, guidance and a space to hang out.
“One thing about Montreal is that there isn’t a cohesive Native community; we all kind of stick to ourselves. It was a chance for everyone to be in one spot where they can meet and ask all kinds of different questions to some of the entities that were here like the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador,” said Horn-Miller who wants to offer new traditional activities next year such as moccasin making so that experts can demonstrate their unique trade.
Ever the perfectionist, Horn-Miller said the event had a few bumps, such as when the person hired to bake goods and make bannock became severely ill. Her family stepped in to finish the job, and it all worked out in the end.
“I’m going to try to perfect my formula next year,” Horn-Miller said. “We would love more Cree participation because we don’t have that much. I’d love to demonstrate how diverse this area is to our visitors and that includes Nations like the Cree, Innu and Naskapi.”