Powwow dancer reclaims her heritage through traditional dance

Powwow photo of Nyla, Matt, Theo and their niece Ryleigh. Photo supplied.

By Chevi Rabbit, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

(ANNews) – Nyla Carpentier is a first-generation powwow dancer who is reclaiming her heritage in powwow and passing it down to her family.

Carpentier is Tahltan, Kaska, French, and Scottish. She grew up in Ottawa, ON, and currently lives in North Vancouver, BC, with her fiancé Matt and baby daughter, Theodora.

Carpentier’s powwow style is both fancy shawl and jingle.

She travelled to Tsuut’ina First Nation and said she felt very welcomed by the community and encourages others to attend their yearly powwow,

“Tsuut’ina First Nation has great food and so many good specials. My family felt very welcomed,” said Carpentier.

She said the Fancy Shawl is a high-energy dance with footwork and spins and is one of the newer contemporary dance styles in the powwow circle.

According to some, Fancy Shawl Dance, the most modern ladies’ dance style, originated in the 1950s and 1960s as a tourist and competition dance style. The Fancy Shawl Dancer is traditionally said to mimic a colourful butterfly as it floats over a grassy, wildflower spotted meadow.

“Jingle Dress originated from the Ojibway people, known as the Healing Dance,” said Carpentier. “The dancer wears a dress that has rolled metal cones. I think they sound like rain when you walk or dance.”

“I’ve beaded my outfit, made two shawls, attempted to make a dress, and done appliqué work but I’m not much of a sewer,” she added.

Carpentier’s favourite thing about powwow culture is that it’s rooted in communities and connecting. People that you meet and dance with become your powwow family, said Carpentier.

“I have many shawl sisters now and when I visit certain places, there are people that I consider family…You also learn to help one another and support new dancers. [You] travel together; take turns watching the kids and share food.”

Carpentier is the first powwow dancer in her family. She started at the age of three at the Odawa Powwow, where her mom was volunteering to help a friend.

“I was drawn to it immediately and wanted to dance. My Mom is white, so she asked her friends in the circle what to do. Then she passed those teachings to me; those friends also took me under their wing and encouraged me to dance. So now, I’m teaching my baby daughter and my niece about it.”

“I’m forever grateful to those Powwow Aunties,” said Carpentier.

“I think my daughter will get to travel to more powwows than I did growing up! I only went to 3-4 a year, mostly in Ontario. We never hit the trail until I was an adult.”

She explained, “I got a lot of lessons! First, take care of your outfit, and it takes care of you. Learn the protocols of every powwow you visit and honour them. Listen to the MC. Passing down teachings is essential – learning where the root of dance comes from no matter how contemporary it looks today.

“Share what you can. Dance hard, dance proud, and dance for those who can’t.”

“I prepare by going over my outfits and beadwork to sees what needs to be fixed. This year after having my daughter, I have to go over each outfit and see what fits! I’ve ordered two new dresses to be made so I can nurse in them,” said Carpentier.

She is also making new outfit pieces for her niece and eventually new beadwork for herself and her daughter

Now that the pandemic is nearly over she is grateful that the community can dance again. “I missed it, and now I have my daughter to be part of this way of life too,” she concluded.

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