On Sept. 16, members of the McGill community and public gathered to watch the 15th Annual Pow Wow, an event on Lower Field celebrating indigenous traditions and cultures.
According to Paige Isaac, Coordinator of the McGill First People’s House (FPH), the purpose of the Pow Wow is to engage members of the McGill community with various indigenous communities. Events like these have also started to increase the visibility of indigenous peoples on campus.
“It’s [a] welcoming event,” Isaac said. “These Pow Wows also serve as an introduction to those who do not know a lot about indigenous culture.”
Isaac noted that the FPH, which has funded the Pow Wow since its inception in 2002, organized this event by inviting community members to perform and artisans to sell their ware.
“Ellen Gabriel [former coordinator of the FPH] invited members of the Mohawk nation to perform to raise awareness. It wasn’t a full Pow Wow that year,” Isaac said. “[Today] we are happy to have representation of Inuit, Métis, and First Nation performers.”
U1 Arts student Kevin Telford Jutrus, who attended the Pow Wow, said events like these make him feel more in touch with his own heritage.
“My favourite part of the Pow Wow [was] the dances,” Jutrus said. “I love seeing people dance tribal style. It brings back the side of my family who’s Abenaki. And it’s always cool to feel cool about part of your ancestry.”
Jessie Bellanger, a political science major from Bishop’s University, said that it was her first time at a Pow Wow.
“I came to Montreal because this event looked very interesting [….] I am taking a class on First Nations culture at my school, so I wanted to see a First Nations cultural event,” said Bellanger.
Allan Vicaire, the Indigenous Education Advisor for the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) Office, who is a member of the Mi’gmaq nation, said this event provided an educational opportunity for students who attended.
“There [was] a moment when they invited the spectators [to] join the performance and dance,” Vicaire said. “The most important aspect of going to a Pow Wow is respecting and learning.”
Artisans and organizations supporting indigenous causes also set up booths around the event. When asked about cultural appropriation of non-indigenous people buying traditional clothing, Vicaire said that this is an important issue that he discusses in presentations.
“We talk about when it is okay to wear a motif, like moccasins,” Vicaire said. “If you like the fashion, go to indigenous artisans and buy it from them. Buying from indigenous artisans supports First Nation communities, going to H&M doesn’t.”
One of the organizations present was the Kahnawake Schools Diabetes Prevention Project from Kahnawake, an indigenous community located across the St Lawrence river just outside of Montreal. Dr. Alex McComber, a member of the Mohawk nation who works for the project, said the organization aims to promote healthy lifestyles for children.
“We work to fight diabetes, so we also promote exercise and healthy living. We’ve helped create paths for walking,” McComber said. “Our organization also works with schools to create a strong health curriculum.”
Vicaire said that in his 15 years attending the event, he hasn’t seen any negative interactions between students and dancers.
“The students who go to these events want to engage in the indigenous culture,” Vicaire said. “They are spectating, soaking up, and seeing all the culture.”