First Nations from across Alberta joined together on the first weekend of August (Aug. 1-2) to help celebrate the Poundmaker’s Lodge and Treatment Centre’s 42nd Annual Powwow. It was a two-day extravaganza that the organization’s Executive Director, Brad Cardinal, called “one of our biggest and best powwow events ever.”
The activities got underway both mornings with pipe and flag raising ceremonies, drum roll calls and registration for hundreds of registered dancers, many of whom travelled from as far away as Kansas and Oklahoma to participate in the annual competition.
“There were more than 500 registered dancers at this year’s event,” noted Cardinal in a post-event interview. “I’d like to thank the many organizations, individuals, volunteers, participants and spectators who stepped up in one way or another to help us celebrate our annual powwow. Their input and support helped make the 2015 event one of the most memorable ever.”
On the first day of the event Cardinal was honoured by the treatment centre’s Elders, board members and staff. They presented him with a beautiful headdress in appreciation of everything he has done to balance and improve the world-renowned programs that have enabled the centre to maintain its leadership role in addictions treatment and recovery.
“In Brad Cardinal,” stated former Poundmaker’s/Nechi administrator, Maggie Hodgson, “we have a man who honours his staff, takes care of the community, takes care of the treatment programs and the broader community. One example was earlier this year, when he built and opened a medicine garden in memory of the former (Indian Residential School) students. We need to congratulate him and lift him up in prayer and give him the strength to continue to show the courage he has, the determination he has and most importantly the love he has.”
Poundmaker’s Cultural Advisor Robert Johnson told the gathering that “Brad has been working in the Aboriginal health field for more than 30 years. As a social worker he has worked in various aspects of front-line service with abused children, in the inner-city, and with seniors as a hospital social worker. He has also worked in corporate levels of government, and has quietly worked behind the scenes on behalf of Aboriginal health. He has shown us the importance of ceremony and has renewed faith in the Creator so that our clients can create change and increase health. He has single-handedly been able to recreate Poundmaker’s Lodge to make it relevant and a major force in the Aboriginal health community. Rarely have we had a leader who has been able to make such significant changes in a short period of time. He has ensured our survival and for that we honour him today for his compassion, leadership and spirit. Chief Poundmaker would have appreciated this.”
Following the annual powwow Mr. Cardinal spoke about the event and the honour that was bestowed upon him.
“It was one of the biggest and best powwows that I’ve ever witnessed or been involved with,” he said, “and I am so pleased that so many people came out to support us. About 5,000 spectators and well-wishers came to the event and I am confident that they all enjoyed the performances and competitions. We had some outstanding dancers perform and from the applause and numbers of people who came to watch the competitions, despite the very hot weather, I’m sure they enjoyed every moment – I know I did.
“I’d also like to congratulate the young men and women who came today as members of the Bold Eagle Program; I was impressed by their presence and participation. Today they are role models; tomorrow they’re our future leaders.”
Cardinal said that he was particularly grateful for the acknowledgement and validation by the community, Poundmaker’s staff, board members and others who understand the importance of the initiatives and programs developed and administered through the Poundmaker’s Lodge and Treatment Centres.
“When the staff and Board and others in the community validate the work you have been doing for three decades in an effort to improve Aboriginal health, it is a very humbling experience,” he said. “I thank the Elders, both at Poundmaker’s and in the broader community for their continued support and I thank the board for their vision and their wisdom. Each continues to help the community in many meaningful ways, both through their level of commitment and through the visions they share with us all. I’d also like to thank the RCMP, Edmonton City Police, the military and the many others who share a similar level of commitment each and every year; we appreciate you and the support you give us.”
Local policing services help to provide scrutiny and security at the annual alcohol-free event; the military, and its Bold Eagle Program are also regular participants at the powwow. This year nearly 100 Bold Eagle members participated in the Opening Ceremonies with some performing a series of precision drill exhibitions that had the crowd oohing, aahing and applauding their appreciation.
“These young men and women participate in an important and meaningful initiative that enables young Aboriginal people interested in pursuing a career in the military an opportunity to take the six week basic training course offered each year at Wainwright, Alberta,” explained Bold Eagle Western Recruitment Coordinator, John McDonald.
“Ninety-four new recruits joined us this year and I am very pleased to hear that they are all doing well; in fact they graduate later this month. This unique program offers young Aboriginal men and women an opportunity of a lifetime; leadership, teamwork, physical fitness and self-discipline are key components of the program. As a part of the cultural component of their Bold Eagle training, candidates attend at least one powwow during their training period and it has been our pleasure to participate here today.”
The 2015 powwow had a total of four Grand Entries; one each morning and one following the 5:45 p.m. Drum Roll. The afternoon Grand Entries got underway at 1 p.m. with competitions beginning at 2 p.m. A variety of competitions, including men’s Traditional, Chicken and Grass Specials, women’s Traditional and Jingle Specials and a Drum Contest took place over the two-day event. Exhibition dances were also performed throughout the powwow and included some spectacular performances in virtually every age group.
Day One got underway with Intertribal Dancing and a Drum Contest while Day Two got started with Intertribal Dancing and a Singing Contest. Other highlights included exhibitions by boys and girls aged tiny tots (under 6) to teens, juniors and golden age. Teen team dances were added daily attractions; many young dancers showed a great deal of potential and are surely bound for greater things in the future.
One of the highlights of the 2015 Poundmaker’s Powwow was the introduction of the Iron Man and Iron Woman Competitions, a test of endurance and fortitude that saw the two winners each receive a new car for their efforts.
“You really have to be in top condition to participate in and win this endurance test,” noted Brad Cardinal. “When the day is as warm as these have been and you’ve already been dancing for hours, it is no easy task to get up there and perform, non-stop, until you are the only one left standing on the powwow ground.”
The 2015 Iron Man Contest winner, Douglas Schofield, and Iron Woman winner, Josette Wahwasuck are both from the United States and both reside in the state of Kansas.
Other contest and competition winners received $500 for first place, $300 for second place and $200 for third place. The winner of the Drum Contest was New Agency, a group from Browning, Montana. Second place went to Mountain Cree, a drum group from the Mountain Cree Nation near Blackfalds, Alberta. Third place finisher, Two Nation is from Saskatchewan’s Mosquito Reserve while fourth place runner-up, Buffalo Plains, makes its home on the Alexander First Nation near Morinville, Alberta.
The top positions in each of these dance competition categories include: Men’s Traditional Special won by Cecil Nepoose, second to Daryl Kootenay and third to Charlie Favel. The Men’s Chicken Special was won by Jody Littlechild with second place going to Chris Harris. The Men’s Grass Special was won by Brannen Raine with second place awarded to Jason Scani. The Women’s Jingle Special was won by Connie Starblanket with the second place prize awarded to Shamaray Yazzie-Littlechild. The winner of the Women’s Traditional Special was Jazyln Hunter; and Ariel Waskewitch took home the second place prize.
Numerous Aboriginal dignitaries, leaders and Elders from across the province spoke briefly at this year’s powwow, most noting the success of Poundmaker’s programs and commenting on the spirit of the powwow and what these events mean to the community. Treaty 8 Grand Chief Steve Courtoreille concentrated his remarks on the significance of the Bold Eagle Program on the lives of young Aboriginal men and women.
“I want to acknowledge the young people that are here in uniform today,” he said. “Through the Bold Eagle Program you will learn a lot about discipline, about respect, about yourselves. Some of you will carry on wearing this uniform and some will choose another path. No matter the road you take, two things will remain with you: respect and self-discipline. These are just two words but they will make you a better person. I wore that badge in 1975 in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia. We went to boot camp – and we didn’t have cell phones. It was lonely at times but we persevered.
“Your instructors, drill sergeants and officers will help you; they will work with you and they will do their best. It is up to you to do the same; respect your leaders, give your best, be proud of who you are as First Nations, Metis and Inuit persons. I am proud of you and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the way you carry on. Good luck to you all.”
(Watch for more coverage of Poundmaker’s Powwow. A beautiful photo gallery and several video clips will be posted next week.)
by John Copley