Powwow Dancers reflect on the 2020 Powwow Lockout – resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic

The Saddle Lake Powwow Arbor will not be the host of a powwow this summer due to the Covid--19 pandemic.

by Jake Cardinal

(ANNews) – The COVID-19 pandemic has hit artists and culture creators incredibly hard this year – in Alberta especially as the province has shelved grants and created an uncertainty in the future of Alberta’s Arts industry.

“Decisions like this are going to drive away people like me, who have an international reputation, and decided to make Alberta my home,” said Vern Thiessen, award-winning playwright and former director of Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has not just been tough for Urban Artists, as many powwows across the province have been cancelled due to the virus as well.

Because of the province’s social distancing restrictions, (during phase 2 of the recovery) no more than 100 people can be at an out-door event.

A powwow can easily reach upwards of thousands of people. With many of them being powwow dancers, powwow singers, stick-game players, food trucks, arts and crafts vendors, jewellery vendors, among other things.

To give some perspective as to how big a powwow can get, the Facebook page “Quarantine Dance specials 2020,” which features home-made videos of powwow dancers, has 65.3k members.

These cancellations are made even worse by the fact that Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada falls on June 21.

“Due to the seriousness of the COVID-19 crisis, the Government of Canada invites Canadians to celebrate this year’s National Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous Peoples Day at home,” said the Government of Canada on its website.

Therefore, in order to catch a glimpse of the under-represented artists working in their traditional mediums, I spoke with a few powwow dancers to hear their thoughts on the cancellations:

Harold – Kehiwin and Maskwacis (Samson), Treaty 6 (Grass Dancer since 1977) 

“I started dancing in 1997, when I was 6 years old. I begged my kokom, Lillian Gadwa, to make me grass dancer regalia and I think it’s just in my blood. My family, the Gadwas, are a bunch of dancers. In fact, my father put my umbilical cord in a powwow arbor.

“I’m pretty sad about the powwow’s being cancelled, a lot of people are very saddened about it, but maybe sometimes the whole thing needs a refresher. A hit of the reboot button in order to keep things fresh.

“It reminds me of the 2005 NHL lockout, when they didn’t have hockey for a whole year, and there was no Stanley Cup champion—well, this is the “2020 Powwow Lockout.”

“I also think it makes people appreciate them more. A lot of my friends on Facebook are saying that they want powwows to be un-cancelled.

“It just gives everyone an opportunity to reinvent themselves, get new stuff, and spend a lot of time with family.

“Y’know, you just have to look at it from a positive perspective, that’s what I’m doing.”

Tyleigh – Samson Cree Nation, Treaty 6 (Fancy Shawl Dancer since 2006) 

“I was encouraged to dance after my mother passed away back in 2006. She also danced Fancy Shawl. So, I began practicing our cultural dance as a way to keep my mother’s spirit alive. I am now 20 years old.

“It is saddening to not have powwows to look forward to this summer, but until this pandemic rolls over, I’d rather have our people stay safe and protected from the virus at home.

“There will be time in the future to share laughs and dance as a community again.”

Tia – Saddle Lake Cree Nation and Whonnock Stl’atl’imx Nation, Treaty 6 and Unceded Territory (Old style Jingle Dancer since age 2 or 3) 

“Ever since powwows started getting cancelled, I’ve been feeling pretty down. I miss seeing my friends, hearing the drums and dancing. I miss seeing all the familiar faces of adopted family and good friends. Most of all I miss all the good food!

“Dancing and singing have always been such a huge part of my life and to have the beginning of the season cancelled sucks because it’s been such a long winter without it.

“When I’m on the dance floor, it’s just me. My worries, doubts, and any sort of negativity disappears.

“But although all of this is very close to my heart and I wish the whole pandemic didn’t exist, I’m very happy to know we are protecting our elders, children, and all those who are at risk of transmitting COVID-19 for they are the future and the knowledge keepers of our tribes.

“What keeps me optimistic is thinking about how jamming they’re going to be when this whole thing blows over.

“But until then, I hope everyone stays safe & takes care.”

Joel (Kiseyiniw Asiniy – Cree for Old Man Rock). Maskwacis, Treaty 6 (Northern Traditional Dancer since 2015)

“The powwow, although not a ceremony (more of a celebration), is for our Creator. We dance and look our best for the Creator and celebrate with friends and family.

“However, if a community deems it necessary to cancel powwows, we have to respect the leadership’s wishes.

“I can trace some of my family’s lineage to Wandering Spirit, who was Big Bear’s War Chief. My Indian name and initiation into the sacred circle comes from Wandering Spirit’s direct descendants who now reside in Rocky Boy, Montana, USA.

“So, the powwow is very important and very meaningful—not just to me, but all of Indian Country and all who carry feathers and sacred medicines for healing.

“I can’t wait to dance again though. It’s really good for our spirits.

“To the Jinglers, the Chicken dancers, the Fancy Shawlers, the Men’s Fancy category, women’s traditional, the tiny tots: I can’t wait to see you all out in the powwow circle again and bettering our communities in Indian Country.

“We pray, hai hai.”

Jake Cardinal is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter.



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