The sun was out in full force on September 20 beating down on McGill University. It was a perfect day for McGill’s 12th Annual Powwow on the lower campus fields giving students and passersby a chance to experience First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures.
Young and old alike participated in the display of traditional Aboriginal culture organized by McGill’s First Peoples’ House with tiny tots dancing alongside university students to the chants and the beat of the drums by the Red Tail Spirit Singers and the Buffalo Hat Singers.
“It’s great to show our culture and share it in the city,” said Dana-Marie Williams, event organizer and staff member of McGill’s First Peoples’ House. “Our aim is also to make Aboriginal students feel closer to home.”
Elder Alex Sonny Diabo opened the annual event that featured dancers, throat singers, drummers and local Aboriginal artisans. “It’s always interesting to come to the powwow to meet people and students from all over the world. They always ask questions about who we are as Native People,” Diabo said. “We try to explain as much as we can. Sometimes we get caught off-guard and can’t answer the question. So we ask them to go out and find the answer so that next time we meet we share in the learning.”
Throughout the day students were asking questions, joining the dances and just soaking in the festive atmosphere. “I share with whoever asks because our teachings are not meant to be kept just to ourselves,” said Ian Achneepineskum, a drummer with the Red Tail Spirit Singers.
For many McGill students, the powwow was quite the sight to behold with its dazzling display of colours and enthralling dances. But for participating families that span several generations, the event is about sharing Aboriginal culture and instilling pride in the future generations.
“This is my fifth year coming to the McGill powwow and each year it keeps getting better and bigger,” said Alan Harrington, powwow dancer and cultural coordinator at the Montreal Native Friendship Centre. “The objective behind this event is family and bringing everyone together. You can see right that a powwow is about uniting, having fun and the sharing of cultures.”
The passing of tradition from generation to generation came to light as Leonard Bordeau shared his story. “I got a late start when it comes to powwows,” said Bordeau, “I was already 50 years old at my first powwow. But my grandson has been coming since he was small.”
It was a little over 10 years ago that Bordeau and his grandson, Curren McComber, then just a baby, were photographed together for the Nation. “A few years after that he told me he wanted to do powwow dancing, so I helped him with the regalia and he learned how to dance,” Bordeau said. “The younger ones usually desire to be in the powwows. We don’t force our young to participate because then they would only do it reluctantly.”
The powwow was the first step this year in a program to help heighten the understanding of First Peoples amongst the McGill student body. From September 23-27, students and the public participated in the third edition of Indigenous Awareness Week, which included workshops, language courses and lectures that offered insight into Aboriginal culture.