Growing up as a child, I was not connected much to my Indigenous heritage as my family lived in the USA, aka the melting pot, and were removed from my father’s side of the family (who are all from Six Nations of the Grand River). The first time I attended a pow wow was at the Rogers Centre (back when it was still called the Skydome) with my great-aunt in 1997, the year my family moved to Canada. She was a strong Indigenous woman who helped create programs for Native women suffering domestic abuse and trauma as well as housing programs for Indigenous people and sat on various other councils representing the interests of Indigenous people. She was adamant that the children of our extended family were connected to their heritage and for this I will be forever grateful.
I remember when I walked in and smelled the sage as the colourful regalia of the dancers danced in tune to the loud beating of drums and singing. Everything felt like…home. It’s hard to explain that sensation, to feel like you’ve found the piece to something you didn’t know you were missing.
So, I try to make it to as many pow wows as I can, including the the Indigenous Studies Student’s Union (ISSU) Honouring Our Students Pow Wow that took place on Sunday, March 11th. This year, the event took place at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, with a free feast at Hart House after.
I had the opportunity, along with other students of my INS220 (Introduction to Indigenous Language) course and professor Ryan DeCaire to give the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen, which is the Mohawk thanksgiving address, also known as “The Words That Come Before All Else.” This is a speech given at openings (and sometimes closing) of important cultural events that gives thanks to all things in creation such as plants, animals, medicines, etc. The chance to speak my ancestral tongue in front of so many people after one year of learning nearly brought me to tears. It’s truly beyond words to describe the experience and I can only express my gratitude to our language teachers, Elders, the Centre for Indigenous Studies, First Nations House, the Indigenous Studies Students Union and the University of Toronto for making this possible.
The event was very well-attended and had various dances, including Grass Dance, Fancy Shawl, Hoop Dancing, Aztec dancers, Round Dance, Tiny Tots (so cute!) Jingle Dress, Métis jiggers, Inuit throat singers and various vendors including artist Chief Ladybird.
I bought some amazing jewellery and beadwork from vendors shown below:
I also ate some hunter’s stew from KuKum’s Kitchen, and fresh-squeezed strawberry juice. Unfortunately, the Native tacos were gone when I went to get some. If you want to try some and can’t make it to a pow wow, you can always try the Pow Wow Cafe in Kensington Market!
Overall, the chance to not only attend but be part of the pow wow was such an incredible experience. Seeing so many Indigenous and non-Indigenous people come together to celebrate and learn about First Nations, Métis and Inuit cultures was fantastic. It felt like being at my first pow wow all over again.