Pow Wow expresses culture and spirituality

Friday, June 10, Fort la Bosse School Division brought a pow wow to Virden and students throughout the school division attended.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, Pow Wow celebrations were adopted and adapted by various Indigenous communities across North America. With the introduction of reserves in the 1830s, First Nations in both Canada and the US attempted to resist cultural assimilation by maintaining a connection to Indigenous traditions through dance and music. The traditional music and dance of the Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains were adapted by other Indigenous people. The new styles of song and dance developed in the Great Plains and the Great Lakes regions, and remain popular throughout the Canadian Prairies (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) and the northern United States, primarily in the Dakotas.
First Nations protested the Indian Act by organizing political forums and petitioning Ottawa, as well as the Canadian courts, for the re-establishment of their spiritual practices. Plains Cree Chief Peyasiw-awasis (also known as Kapitikow or Thunderchild) argued that the right to perform traditional dances, music and festivals was enshrined in their treaties. The Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation and Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan continued to hold powwows for 75 years during the restrictive period. Today, some powwow organizers still refer to and honor these two nations. After the Second World War, many returning Indigenous veterans demanded freedom of religion and the right to practice traditional ceremonies.
Powwow dancers and musicians refused to abandon their culture. Today, powwows are a place where both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can come together in peace to celebrate tradition and promote an enduring culture.
Powwow dances are expressions of Indigenous spirituality, history and culture. Powwow dances, drum music and singers, and regalia are sacred elements of the celebration, meant not only to entertain, but also to tell important stories about personal and cultural history
The men’s Traditional Dance is most closely associated with 19th century warrior society dances, including the Omaha or Grass Dance. These warrior dances descended from earlier forms of the dance performed before the creation of reserves. Returning to the village after a battle, warriors would sometimes re-enact the conflict through dance for the women, children and elderly members of their community. Similarly, hunters would re-enact their stories of tracking prey, imitating horses, buffalo or birds as they danced.
The men’s Fancy Dance is a relatively new addition to the powwow. One origin story says that the dance emerged after Indigenous veterans returned home from Europe following the Second World War. The veterans had been impressed by some of the dance troupes that entertained the troops stationed in Europe and were inspired by their colorful outfits. As a result, the dancers made their own regalia more colorful, and their movements more acrobatic. Fancy Dance regalia includes elaborate beadwork and other decorations. It consists of two large bustles: one on the lower back, and one on the shoulders. Dancers also often wear a hair roach adorned with eagle feathers, as well as moccasins. Some dancers attach bells and spinners (eagle feathers) to their regalia.
The steps of the men’s Fancy Dance are more energetic than traditional dances and incorporate a wide variety of creative movements including flips, cartwheels and splits to attract the eyes of the judges. The dance is, in many respects, a test of endurance and athleticism.
According to tradition Women’s Fancy Shawl Dance emerged in the early 20th century in the Northern Plains area as a counterpart to the men’s Fancy Dance. By the 1940s, several teenage girls grew frustrated that they were not allowed to perform the men’s Fancy Dance. They challenged the status quo by dressing in men’s outfits and dancing at a powwow in South Dakota, paving the way for the women’s Fancy Shawl Dance. The elaborate shawl is uniquely decorated by the dancer with distinct ornaments, beadwork and fringes.
Some traditions hold that the steps of the women’s Fancy Shawl Dance are meant to portray the flight of the butterfly. Others take their cue from the men’s Fancy Dance and incorporate vigorous steps like those used by the male Fancy dancers.
Most accounts trace the roots of the Women’s Jingle Dance to Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) territory in either the northwestern US or in White Fish Bay, Ontario, around the 1920s. The jingle dance came to an Anishinaabe man in a vision. The man was seeking a way to help a sick girl, Maggie White who was suffering from the Spanish flu, a virus that affected millions. The vision instructed the man on how to make a jingle dress, and how to teach the steps of a healing dance to be performed in that dress. The more she danced in the dress, the better she felt, until she was fully recovered. After being cured, White sought to share the jingle dress and dance with other young girls. She founded the Jingle Dress Dance Society sometime after the First World War, at which point the jingle dance became popularized in pow wows. When women perform the jingle dance, they pray for the health and well-being of themselves, their family and their community. Over time, other First Nations adopted the dance because it stood for prayer and healing.
What makes them jingle? Rows of metal cones were originally made from tobacco tin lids and have been cited as a source of spiritual energy. As the dancers move, the cones that dangle from the dresses jingle and sing out to the spirits. Modern jingle dresses are beautifully decorated and are worn with matching beaded leggings, moccasins, purse and hair ornaments. Modern styles of this dance also feature intricate and controlled footwork that is complex, but demonstrates the dancers’ grace, poise and endurance.

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