National Indigenous Peoples Day

June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day. This is a day where Canadians recognize and celebrate the unique heritage and diverse cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. The Canadian Constitution recognizes these three groups as Aboriginal peoples, also known as Indigenous peoples.

Under normal circumstances this would be the beginning of the summer pow wows. However Covid-19 restrictions have cancelled all that. Which is a shame. Virtual pow wows are being planned where contestants will up-load videos of their dances and competitions will continue. But it won’t be the same.

There’s an energy and excitement of a live pow wow that’s missing in videos. The feeling of drums vibrating from the ground up. The sound of rhythmic chants rising above the crowd. The acrobatic theater of the fancy dances. The drama of the traditional ones. The spectacular outfits rich in history and symbolism.

I can’t replicate the thrill of seeing a live pow wow but to tease your interest, here are a few photos from past events.

Traditional pow wows are gatherings with open dances for all to join. Others, particularly those open to the general public, involve dance competitions with large cash prizes. There is a term “following the pow wow trail” which means travelling to all the events to compete and earn money – similar to rodeo circuits. In fact, many pow wows are held in conjunction with rodeos with riders and dancers competing in both.

In the summer months there’s a regular roster of pow wows throughout Canada and US.  When I attended my first pow wow in 2015, it was relatively low key with most of the spectators visiting from surrounding areas and reservations. In 2016, I noticed an increase in the number of tourists and international languages peppering the crowds. None of the pow wows I’ve attended in Ontario compare to the size of pow wows in the US. YouTube videos of those events look massive with thousands of dancers on the convention center floor. I prefer the smaller scale events which are held outdoors, with significantly less participants.

Generally performers are friendly and amenable to posing for pictures (with permission) and talking about their regalia.  At the Six Nations Gran River Pow Wow I met Brittney Shki-Giizis who gave me background on her outfit and close-up pictures of her dress.

Called ‘regalia’,  Brittney’s outfit had sewn-in symbols of her tribe and clan; flowers for the Ojibwe tribe and her crow ‘helper’ from the Marten clan. The outfit was all handmade, intricately embroidered with millions of tiny beads. 

I look forward to the day when live pow wows are restarted. In the meantime, for a more detailed description of the dance styles, their origins and video examples, this Canadian Encyclopedia link is a good resource.

Photos taken at different Pow Wows in Ontario, Canada

11 Comments

  1. Beautiful photos as always. You’re so talented with your portraits.
    I was wondering what was your opinion as an American continent dweller concerning the removal or vandalising of statues such as Columbus’ because they are considered as a ‘symbol of hate and oppression’?
    I’ve read an article which said “The monument in West Orange incorrectly names Columbus as the ‘Discoverer of America’ despite the land already being owned by Native Americans,” (…). “In addition, he NEVER set foot on the land that is now the United States. He only saw the coasts of Central and South America. Therefore, in regards to both morality and basic truth, everything about Columbus’ voyages were WRONG. Any justification of Christopher Columbus’ behavior(…)”.
    I’d love to hear from you on that because my “European point of view” could surely benefit from your experience!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Interesting question Vero. Long answer ahead, probably more of a full post than a comment. But since you asked …

      The point of view of the aboriginal rights is fraught with emotion and history. As a child of Chinese diaspora and someone who grew up in a former English colony, I cannot fully emphasize with the anti-Columbus view. Like it or not, it is history that’s brought us to where we are now. I’m glad to be living where and how I am now, and all of it can be attributed to the western/ European influence on the new world.

      Having said that, we can’t ignore that there were MANY injustices and wrongs committed against First Nations people. Transgressions which were rationalized by a belief that they were less than human and less deserving of basic rights to justice and decency.

      Personally, I don’t care about statues. Toppling, defacing & removing them seem pointless. Statues are not sacrosanct and heroes are sinners just the same. The protest though, indicate a modern day frustration with aboriginal history being ignored, to the detriment of aboriginal people today. That detriment is the issue.

      In Canada indigenous reconciliation focuses on honoring and acknowledging old treaties signed by forefathers with Canadian government. While it’s not an entirely happy-happy situation, we don’t see rantings about who discovered America/Canada. I think it’s not a big deal. Or at least, the big deal is about reconciliation not discovery.

      I’m of the opinion that the ‘Discoverer’ issue is pointless. You can’t revise history and time is better spent going forward, in spite of history.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for taking the time to answer so thoroughly. I appreciate. It’s always a positive thing to read other people’s point of view on such matters.
        The people who destroy the statues seem to forget they are Americans THANKS to the first colonies which settled in the New World and their ancestors are directly responsible for the impact on native populations.
        I couldn’t agree more with you when you write about the “modern day frustration with aboriginal history being ignored, to the detriment of aboriginal people today”.

        It would be great though to see what this continent would have become if “exploration” didn’t involve “colonization”…

        Like

  2. I have not heard the term Pow Wow in reference to an official event. I thought it was some slang US term. It would be thrilling to see all those beautiful outfits, with such intricate embroidery and so colourful. We call our indigenous or first nation folk Aboriginals too. I wasn’t aware other countries used that terms. Thanks for educating me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The very first time I heard ‘aborigine’ it was in the context of Australia’s aborigines. These days in Canada, the more popular term is First Nations.
      Pow wow as a slang word? I’ve seen it used as in “Let’s pow wow on this topic” as in “Let’s have a quick meeting” – but it’s not really used much now.
      I’m glad if I showed you something new today 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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