On Sept. 22, members of the McGill community gathered on the Lower West Field to celebrate First Nations, Inuit, and Métis cultures at the 22nd annual Pow Wow. The five-hour event, hosted by First Peoples’ House and the Office of Indigenous Initiatives, was started in 2001 and became the centre of McGill’s Indigenous Awareness Weeks after the weeks’ creation in 2011.
With a backdrop of blue skies and sunshine, the event began with the Grand Entry, which saw participants enter the tent while dancing to the beat of the RedTail Spirit Singers’ singing and drumming, followed by the pinning up of flags. A moment of silence took place after the introductory dancing for a member of the Kahnawà:ke community who passed away last weekend. This was followed by Intertribal dances, including the male Warrior Dance and female Butterfly Dance, also to the RedTail Spirit Singers’ music. The event also saw throat singing, a hoop dance demonstration, and speeches on the resilience of Indigenous peoples against Canadian settler colonialism.
Education and the involvement of young people, including McGill students and youth from around Quebec, played a significant role throughout the day. Younger children and toddlers, particularly from the Rising Sun daycare—the only Indigenous daycare in Montreal—were encouraged to dance alongside the Indigenous peoples.
Speakers emphasized that the Pow Wow was about socializing and joy. In an interview with The Tribune, JJ McKenzie, a member of the Métis Nation and one of the two dancers in the Orange Blossom Special dance, explained how the Pow Wow encourages a more positive and empowering representation of Indigenous peoples, in comparison to primarily-disheartening news coverage.
“A lot of the time in news and media, you only hear the sad bits about our communities, such as residential schools,” McKenzie said. “This is the fun part that we like to share […] for all of the Indigenous people here. It builds up our community, and then for everyone else who’s not Indigenous, it showcases our fun and cool parts of our culture.”
Outside the main tent which hosted the scheduled events of the day, the Pow Wow also accommodated a number of Indigenous organizations and companies, many of which displayed their jewellery, beauty products, decorations, and artwork.
Matsheshu Créations, run by Raphaëlle Langevin of the Innu Nation from Mashteuiatsh, hosted a booth at the event, selling jewellery and clothing. In an interview with The Tribune, Langevin explained that it was her first time in Montreal.
“Not everyone wants to travel all the way to meet [my company], so it’s a way to come and meet people,” Langevin said. “I’m happy that people can leave with a part of our culture […] we have a beautiful culture, a really rich history. We are still here, and we are still strong.”
“It’s very personal [….] It’s a way of reconnecting with my community,” Bear said.
Leah Louttit-Bunker, U2 Arts and co-chair of the Indigenous Students Alliance (ISA), told The Tribune, that the Pow Wow was an enriching experience for all of the ISA, and commended the groups that hosted the event.
“It was heartwarming to see everyone gather together to celebrate Indigenous cultures. The annual [Pow Wow] is always the highlight of our year and we really appreciate the work that the First Peoples’ House and the Office of Indigenous Initiatives put into organizing it,” Louttit-Bunker said.
McKenzie suggested that people looking to become more involved in honouring and learning about Indigenous communities should attend more local events outside of the university setting.
“See if there’s any events going on nearby that other people are invited to,” McKenzie said. “If you come and ask people questions, they will be happy to answer them and showcase our culture.”