Rabbit Island brings it all home with new powwow grounds and a focus on language

An aerial view of the new Rabbit Island powwow grounds was captured by drone early on Saturday. photo by Scott Flamand

RABBIT ISLAND – Threatening clouds parted taking the early morning rain with them as the sun came out and blue skies reigned over the new powwow grounds at Rabbit Island’s Prairie Point just in time for the Wiikwemkoong Waaboozoo Mnising Jiingdamowin grand entry.

Anishinaabemowin is alive and vibrant in the Rabbit Island community, one of five Wiikwemkoong satellite communities that take turns to host the rotating traditional powwow each year, and the organizing community wanted to emphasize the language as an integral part of life in their community.

The new powwow grounds sport freshly built viewing stands and a steel-roofed arbour in the centre of the sand floored dance arena. The new arbour, with its dark green roof will stand the test of time for a generation, thanks to the steel supplied by the Island’s own Terrastar Building Products of Manitowaning.

The Waaboozoo Mnising Jiingdamowin was truly a community driven event, with community member Chris ‘The Pleasant’ Pheasant acting as master of ceremonies and head dancers rotating throughout the morning and afternoon sessions on the two day event also hailing from the community.

Arena director was Adam Trudeau and the host drum was Thunder Earth, with co-host Chippewa Travellors (whose CD ‘Waseyasige: Shining Brightly’ took first in the 2019 Indigenous Music Awards), elders Violet Recollet and Ted Recollet (cousins) and firekeepers Mark Roy, Joel Roy and Phillip Recollet kept the sacred fire going with a 24/7 effort.

“This all came together in three weeks,” said Tracy Cleland, an organizing committee member. “We are focussing everything in the language and our president, Sandra Peltier, has been working tirelessly with the community members to make this come together.” Ms. Peltier was not in attendance on the first grand entry as a birth in the family took understandable precedence (it was a boy).

The new grounds were prepared by an Ontario Works project and the carpentry work on the bleachers and arbour were also a Community Work project, noted Ms. Cleland.

Visitors from Germany and Switzerland could be found in the stands enjoying an opportunity to learn about the dance and song traditions of the Anishinaabe and a host of vendors from all along the powwow trail were setting up shop through the day. Despite the relatively remote location at the far reaches of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory and the recent rain, a steady breeze from the nearby shore kept the bugs at bay throughout the day.

A roped off area near the grounds featured signs requesting that those attending the traditional powwow respect the endangered species contained within, an admonition that was respected by all. There was plenty of room for parking available and a steady stream of vehicles were headed out to the site throughout the day.

In recent years the rotating community traditional powwows had taken place at Thunderbird Park, site of the annual grandmother of Ontario powwows that takes place on the August long weekend, but with the new powwow grounds Rabbit Island has brought its turn home to stay.