Sixties Scoop Survivor Adam North Peigan reclaims identity through powwow dancing

Adam North Peigan in his powwow regalia. Photo supplied.

by Kinnukana, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter 

(ANNews) – Adam North Peigan, a member of the Piikani First Nation, began powwow dancing when he was in his early 40s. Adam, a sixties scoop survivor, did not have an opportunity to dance as a child because he was not connected to his culture and traditions while growing up in non-Indigenous foster and group homes. As an adult, Adam wanted to learn more about his First Nation culture and traditions. One way Adam began learning was by attending powwows. He was mesmerized by the diverse colours of regalia and the different dance styles. Adam was also captivated by the grand entry where all the dancers would open up the celebrations. Whenever he watched it, he felt like he wanted to participate but at the same time he did not know where to begin.

Adam decided to go to a First Nations ceremony with an Elder to ask for guidance. He made an offering of tobacco and asked his spiritual grandfathers for direction. After the ceremony, he went home, and the pieces started to fall together for him. Adam knew the power of ceremony and prayer was helping him.

It all began with a friend who gave him a bustle – a traditional part of a man’s regalia worn during a powwow. The men’s bustle is typically made of a string of eagle feathers attached to a backboard. Dancers wear a bustle, which represents the cycles of Mother Earth and the unity of everything. The eagle flies the highest and carries the prayers of the people skyward, making its feathers extremely sacred. The bustle needed some repair work and Adam had to learn how to make the repairs and fix the eagle feathers. It took three winters for Adam to fix his bustle and collect all the other pieces that he needed for his regalia. His wife Lena and her family helped to make his traditional outfit pieces by doing all the beadwork by hand.

Adam now has his regalia, a powerful form of historical dress that represents his own life, interests, and family background. When you go to a powwow you will never come across the same regalia. Every dancer has their own historical dress that is made personally for them based on their own traditions and cultural backgrounds. Before every powwow, Adam prepares his regalia by smudging all the pieces in order to cleanse them. Once he is done dancing at a powwow, he takes the time to pack the items away carefully in a safe space.

Adam danced for the first time at a powwow in British Columbia during a May long weekend. He is a traditional dancer and learned to dance by watching others at powwows. He learned the unique styles and the beats that must be followed. He recalls being nervous and scared that he did not know the protocol well enough. He was so passionate and dedicated to dance that he overcame his fears and did not let them stop him from dancing. Adam even travelled to the biggest powwow in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2010 to dance at the Gathering of Nations where there were about five thousand dancers and about a hundred drum groups. He has since travelled all over North America to many powwows to dance and celebrate.

There are many different dance styles, but Adam likes to perform the traditional dance. In his culture, the dance portrays the buffalo hunt. Buffalos are important to his Nation because they provide food, clothing and shelter as the hides are used for teepees. The traditional men were scouts in the buffalo hunt and played a key role in making sure the hunt is successful.

Adam said it is hard to explain what dancing in a grand entry and powwow is like. It overwhelms you and you tune out the world. Some powwows today are becoming too commercialized and focus more on the benefits of competitions. Adam believes that being a dancer is so gratifying and gives him back his cultural identity. He likes to dance at traditional powwows rather than the more competitive ones. The traditional powwows allow you to enjoy yourself more and have a fun time. It is a place where you can build camaraderie with other dancers and focus on the cultural celebrations. An Elder once told Adam that a powwow is a ceremony where everyone gives thanks to the creator for giving us life. Adam is grateful that powwow dancing has helped him to reclaim his loss of identity and to celebrate who he has become as a strong First Nations person.

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