WIIKWEMKOONG – Among the crowds packing the viewing stands of the 59th annual Wiikwemkoong Cultural Festival (aka the grandmother of all powwows) were a substantial number of visitors hailing from communities that span the world, including South Korea, the Netherlands, Florida, Michigan, Germany, France, Switzerland and a host of other locales—although they could have caught the action from the comfort of their own living rooms as FirstTel was streaming live to the world.
There were 341 dancers and 45 singers competing in this year’s competition powwow, bringing some of the most accomplished and skillful cultural ambassadors to Wiikwemkoong as they compete to collect some very nice prizes—including some nice sums of zhooniya (money).
Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier delivered welcoming remarks following the grand entry, speaking in the language for part of his remarks.
“Welcome, thank you all for coming out to our festival, and thank you to all of you viewing online from across the world,” he said. Ogimaa Peltier introduced Chiefs of Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald of Taykwa Tagamou Nation and invited her to say a few words.
Chi-Ogimaakwe Archibald brought greetings and congratulations from the other 132 chiefs across the province. “I am very happy to be here,” she said, noting that her initial remarks were in her native Cree language. “I want to first of all acknowledge the Creator, the world around us and our place within it,” she said. “I want to thank the people of this beautiful Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory for welcoming us into their community.”
Chi-Ogimaakwe Archibald referenced the recent court victory of the Robinson Huron Treaty Nations in the annuities case and thanked all of the member nations for standing up to show the non-Native governments that they have obligations they must fulfill.
Throughout the weekend there were a number of special awards and recognitions besides the competitions, one of which was the presentation to River Christie-White of the Oneida Nation of a senior brave status for the cultural festival. Mr. Christie-White has started a charitable organization called Hoops for Hope, which raises money for autism research. He had the opportunity to meet up with two of his teachers, Sarah and Kade Sanders, who he generously credited with his academic accomplishments, an accolade quickly and deftly parried by Ms. Sanders. “No, we were just guides,” she said. “The accomplishments are all yours.”
Among the visitors to this year’s powwow were Paul and Miriska from the Netherlands who are on a globe-crossing odyssey that has already brought them from their Lowlands home to the north of Scandinavia, south through Spain and Morocco and across the big water by ship. The couple plan to travel to Vancouver before heading south to South American and beyond into Asia.
“We had never heard of a powwow,” said Miriska. “This has been a wonderful experience. It is so beautiful here.”
In the cultural pavilion visitors could discover the wonders of the drum teachings, as related by the incomparable Stephen Antoine, who leavened his presentation of the story of the drum with humour and history.
Mr. Antoine related how the drum began on Mnidoo Mnissing among the Anishnaabe, although it was preserved largely by the plains people before returning to its birthplace. He spoke of a young maiden who returned from her teachings in the bush to discover her village deserted and a great battle between a massive war party of invading Sioux and the Anishinaabe going on nearby. At first she hid in the water, breathing through a reed, but taken to the spirit world she learned the teachings of the drum. Returning to the material world after an absence of hours, though gone but a moment, she brought the teachings of the drum, which the Anishinaabe know as the heartbeat of the nation, back with her. So powerful was her medicine teaching that the warriors could not help but lay aside their weapons to take up the drum. Today, the men sit at the drum because it was a gift to the men from the women and a woman often stands behind a drum group in symbolic recognition of that gift.
This year’s Miss Wiikwemkoong is Ashley Assinewe-Bennett. Ms. Assinewe-Bennett took the crown in a field of contestants after competing in an essay and dance competitions.
As the dance and singing competitions took place in the arena, vendors like David White, Bruno Henry and Redfeather plied their wares to the eager crowds.
As the weekend drew to a close and the regalia and wares packed up for the next stop on the powwow trail, memories of Wiikwemkoong will be shared, not only in communities across Turtle Island but to Europe, Asia and beyond.
As one of the master of ceremonies Chris Pheasant mentioned during part of his powwow banter, Wiikwemkoong is a forward looking community that embraces technology, but reinforces and informs the future through the culture and traditions of the past.