On Sept. 15, the McGill First People’s House (FPH) hosted the 16th annual Pow Wow on Lower Field. Members of the indigenous community from Montreal and other parts of Canada sang, danced, and socialized with students and families to celebrate to their indigenous culture.
For FPH Administrative Coordinator Dana-Marie Williams, an organizer of this year’s Pow Wow, the event has served as an opportunity for indigenous and non-indigenous students alike to learn about the heritage and network of First Peoples year after year.
“[We want] the students to come enjoy and see the culture, gain experience, and get great food or arts and crafts,” Williams said. “I hope the indigenous students come to see what kind of indigenous organizations are out there. It’s a great place for other indigenous people to come meet friends and family.”
As part of the festivities, 12 Aboriginal organizations set up booths on Lower Field to advertise their counselling services, promote upcoming cultural events, and sell clothing and jewelry. Native Montreal, an organization dedicated to the improvement of the health and development of the culture of Aboriginal communities in Montreal, used their space at the Pow Wow to promote programs like their free Aboriginal language classes and social interventions for resolving personal, domestic, social, or psychological problems among indigenous youths. Wayne Robinson, Social Intervention Officer at Native Montreal, explained the organization’s objectives at the Pow Wow.
“We know a lot of the indigenous community comes out to the McGill Pow Wow,” Robinson said. “We’ve been here for the last few years, and there have been a lot of families who haven’t known about our services because we’re a relatively new organization. [The Pow Wow] is a big part of our mandated friendship center movement [to assist Native people making a transition into urban communities and…] to do some of the bridging between the indigenous people and the non-indigenous community.”
As executive director of the Rising Sun Childcare Center–the only indigenous childcare facility in Montreal–Alana-Dawn Phillips brings the children from her daycare to the McGill Pow Wow every year to immerse them in Aboriginal festivities.
“It’s important that children are exposed to as much of the indigenous culture and language as possible, to have pride in who they are, and to accept who they are,” Phillips said. “[It is crucial that the children] have that initial thought of ‘This is who I am’ and…that they have a positive identity as an indigenous person.”
This year’s Pow Wow coincided with Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit to McGill for a press conference on the opening of Facebook AI Research (FAIR) Montreal, an artificial intelligence lab in the city led by McGill Associate Professor of Computer Science Joelle Pineau. Student leaders gathered in protest of Trudeau’s failure to acknowledge the Pow Wow, while tribal leaders at the Pow Wow, such as former McGill student and army veteran Ray Deer, felt unsure if Trudeau would keep his promises to the Indigenous peoples.
“What [Trudeau will] do as he goes through his term and if he comes through with all [his] promises [remains unknown],” Deer said. “[The Pow Wow’s purpose is] to acknowledge we were here, we are here, and we want to continue to participate on the land of Montreal. Justin Trudeau, if he can help [to acknowledge our presence], I think all of us as First Nations people will be very proud to participate with Canada.