by Lorraine Payette, written August 18, 2013
(GANANOQUE, ONTARIO) It seems to depend on whom and where a person is as to how they define the word “powwow”. But if you are willing to take the time and speak with those for whom it is a major event, it grows into a powerful and dramatic tool to spread love, language, culture and history throughout the world employing riotous colour, splendid dance and infectious music.
“Powwow is a chance to bring all of the people together,” said Kenny Leaf, a Mohawk from Akwesasne. “It’s a chance to meet all the different nations and cultures, and have a good time. Everyone comes from different places and we dance to heal and bring good things to everyone.”
From August 13-14, a mini-powwow was held in Gananoque at the Joel Stone Heritage Park. Hosted by Aboriginal Adventures, it featured everything that could be expected at a larger powwow, but in a more compact form. There were dancers and musicians, vendors and traditional foods. And a lot of new people getting the chance to know each other better.
“These are some of our traditions,” said Marilyn Paxton-Deline of Aboriginal Adventures. “We hope to reach out to the world and let them know who we are, and invite them to join us in these joyous occasions.”
Many of the dancers and singers in the modern powwows have worked in movies throughout North America.
“Hollywood discovered us when they needed traditional dancers for a film, and didn’t have time or resources to create their own costumes and choreograph their own dances,” said Jerry McDonald. “They came onto the reservations, and found our people already had all of this together and working for them. Over the past twenty years, it has created a whole new industry for our young people, a way to be proud of who they are and where they come from.”
Prior to this new interest in First Nations history, there had been many problems among those living on the reservations. Drug and alcohol abuse were common, and there seemed to be little hope. Young people in particular found no joy in being who they were, and many experienced periods of complete despair. Suicide had peaked, and there seemed to be no way up or out.
“Agents have started going onto the reservations to find people and skills,” said McDonald. “This has led to successful careers in film, with many young people going on to school for dramatic arts, dance, music, etc.”
“Powwow is for everyone,” said Leaf. “It is a time of healing, a time of being together in happiness and joy.”
Leaf went on to say that he had had problems himself before discovering powwow. He was typical of the troubled youth, seeking solace in alcohol and drugs. But when he discovered powwow, everything changed for the better.
He is somewhat confused that anyone would want to talk to him about it because he has only been involved for the past two years. Yet Leaf is a perfect example of the wonder and strength of powwow – a young person full of hopes and dreams, reaching out to the world and letting everyone know the power of universal love and healing that can only be found there.
For more about Aboriginal Adventures and their local programs and events, please go to their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/aboriginaladventures or drop in at First Nations Creations on King Street East in Gananoque and ask the staff.