Most articles I read on the Kahnawake Pow Wow are about the Oka Crisis and how it started the Pow Wow tradition in Kahnawake. It is true that this incident revealed many prejudices against Native peoples in the Montreal area. The purpose of the first Pow Wow in 1991 was to help the Mohawk people get over and heal from what happened during the crisis. But that was 18 years ago. This year’s Pow Wow is proof that they have accomplished just that.
Now people are looking past what happened in the summer of 1990 and seeing Aboriginal people for what they really are – a people that is struggling to conserve what little is left of what they cherish: land, culture, and traditions. I believe the Pow Wow is now about so much more than the Oka crisis.
While Sunday didn’t attract more than 2,000 people because of the rainy weather, Saturday’s festivities welcomed over 5,000. I went on the Saturday, parking in the street since it would have taken us a good half hour if we would have waited in line for the parking.
After paying the seven-dollar entrance fee, which I thought was reasonable for a whole day of entertainment, we finally were able to enter the action. The first thing I noticed was the food! As gross as it sounds, the smell of the grease in the air was so tantalizing.
There were about 20 food stands with everything; strawberry juice, snow cones, Indian tacos, moose meat, walleye pop corn, salmon plates and buffalo burgers. I personally opted for the walleye pop corn and the Indian taco which were both extremely tasty. I could have eaten more but needed to control myself!
The drums, the songs and the dances were truly the focus of the 18th annual Pow Wow. Without the drums and the singing, there would be no dances, no competition. Music and dancing, together along with the effort the dancers put into having stunning traditional dresses was really amazing to look at. Every category, including the men’s straight or traditional dance, women’s traditional dance, intertribal dance, men’s grass dance, women’s jingle, women’s fancy, and men’s fancy had their own styles and age groups. The beauty of the dancers amazed me.
If only I had more money, the damage I could have done in the arts and crafts stands would have been memorable. Moccasins, carvings, jewellery, and paintings – everything was so beautiful and tempting.
The only thing that made me gasp was a stand that was selling posters. One of the featured posters read: “Get off our land.” Beneath this was a picture of men dressed in camouflage and holding machine guns. It was just a tad contradictory to the purpose of the whole weekend, which was to bring everyone together in peace, have fun and show others about Native culture. Besides that, the kiosks were fun to look at, even if you didn’t have any money to spend!
While I was at the Pow Wow, I saw people from many different ethnic backgrounds. There were Asians snapping pictures, Indians (from India!) pointing at the dancers’ costumes, black people looking at the arts and crafts. Everybody was looking everywhere so fast as if not to miss any of the action going on around them.
How far the Kahnawake Pow Wow has come in 18 years. This special weekend is not about healing anymore; it’s about showing, teaching, sharing and of course, having fun!