WIIKWEMKOONG—Germany, Netherlands and Sweden were among the more distant countries from which Wiikwemkoong Cultural Festival attendees travelled.
The festival, held this past Saturday to Monday, offered a chance for all nations to gather and experience some of the best displays of Anishinaabek cultural traditions.
“It looks like participation is up; numbers have increased this year,” said Ogimaa Duke Peltier.
Chris Pheasant assumed the lead MC role, a position he has held at many past festivals. The Grand Entry ceremony featured elders, incoming Wiikwemkoong Tribal Police Service Chief Terry McCaffrey, veterans and the royalty of Miss Wikwemikong, Little Miss Wikwemikong, Wikwemikong Lil Brave, and Junior Miss Wikwemikong.
The powwow received international media attention, most visibly with a team of camera and drone operators present on Sunday to shoot a television special featuring a Texas entrepreneur visiting cultural events in Ontario. Photographers Without Borders was also present shooting the festival.
Ogimaa Peltier said he was happy to see the documentarians in attendance.
“We hope to increase interest by sharing the story of this festival. Our goal is to continue promoting tourism in this region, partly because of the economic benefits for Wiikwemkoong and Manitoulin Island by having the premier cultural festival in Northeastern Ontario,” he said.
The Expositor reached out to the on-site producer for the television shoot, who said he was unable to provide any details about the production for confidentiality reasons.
In the early afternoon, the Phillips family entered the arbour to host the Connie Phillips Memorial Old Style Jingle Special. Ms. Phillips was from the Oneida Nation of the Thames and Chippewas of the Thames. Elizabeth Edgar-Webkamigad, a childhood friend of Ms. Phillips, was asked to speak for the family.
“They consider Wiikwemkoong to be part of their home,” said Ms. Edgar-Webkamigad. “They have lots of extended family and connections to this community.”
The memorial special marked 10 years since Ms. Phillips’ death. Her family worked with the community to arrange the special. Family matriarch Donna Phillips chose the drums specifically, as she had watched the singers grow up.
Ms. Edgar-Webkamigad said the last time she saw Ms. Phillips, she taught her the importance of repairing relationships, being brave and making amends with others despite the challenge.
The winning dancer in the Connie Phillips Memorial Old Style Jingle Special was Kyla Sanderson, a Plains Cree who lives in Saskatoon. She has danced since the age of five, but began to travel to farther powwows in her teens.
“I felt like I needed to dance. It’s a memorial special in their time of need, because their mom was a jingle dancer as well,” said Ms. Sanderson “More importantly, to help heal the family because the jingle dress is a healing dance.”
Ms. Sanderson said she mainly tours the powwow trail around Saskatchewan and Canada’s Midwest, but she attends Wiikwemkoong every year to visit with her partner’s family who live here. In her teen years she was crowned Miss FSIN, a contest held by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan.
“I was nervous dancing in front of the other jingle dress dancers because the Great Lakes region is its home,” said Ms. Sanderson. “It really was an honour because it was a memorial special for their mom.”
Ms. Sanderson said she likes attending the Wiikwemkoong powwow because “it’s laid back and I feel at home.”
Now that she has started a family of her own, Ms. Sanderson has gained new perspectives.
“I have a six-year-old son who already dances and it’s a blessing feeling, raising my son in this environment of powwows and his culture,” she said.
For Ms. Edgar-Webkamigad, seeing the roughly 75 dancers standing to support Ms. Phillips was a powerful image.
“It was a reminder of the meaning of the circle,” she said. “The circle is here for you. We’re going to take care of you.”
Two international award-winning hoop dancers paid visits to the powwow. Wiikwemkoong’s own two-time world champion Lisa Odjig led a workshop with Ascension Harjo of Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, who won the teen division at this year’s Hoop Dance World Championships. Mr. Harjo’s dad Adrian Harjo served as MC to the workshop, which invited participants to try out hoop dancing.
Ms. Odjig, who now lives and works in Toronto, paused with her father Franklin Odjig after her workshop. This was her first time teaching a session at the Wiikwemkoong powwow.
Ms. Odjig’s uncle introduced her to the dance style, and soon she was able to use 12 hoops at once. She has danced with as many as 17 hoops in past performances.
“I was so focused on what he was teaching me,” said Ms. Odjig. “When he was teaching me to hoop dance, I was so focused on what to do with the hoops and what they mean. I just had so much fun with it.”
Ms. Odjig has now danced in Europe, Asia and all around North America. She has performed for the Olympics and other sporting events, TV shows and toured with producer and DJ team A Tribe Called Red, based in Ottawa.
Mr. Odjig said his daughter’s successes can be attributed to her hard work and perseverance.
“I didn’t really push her, I just encouraged her and supported her. I’m really proud of her,” he said.