On Sept. 20, members of the McGill and Montreal community gathered on Lower Field to participate in the 19th Annual Pow Wow hosted by the First Peoples’ House (FPH). The Pow Wow was a day full of traditional dancing, singing, and performances with the purpose of bringing the McGill community together to celebrate First Nations, Inuit, and Métis cultures. The Pow Wow is part of Indigenous Awareness Weeks which was organized by the McGill Indigenous Education Program.
Amber Bedard, the Indigenous Student Advisor for the First Peoples’ House, noted the Pow Wow’s role in providing a unique, celebratory space for Indigenous students at McGill to showcase their culture and pride.
“[The Pow Wow is] a time for the community to come together and celebrate our culture,” Bedard said. “I think it’s really important, especially for Indigenous students on campus, to feel recognized within the institution. Often, there’s not really a space to learn and to feel welcomed in, and the Pow Wow provides that space and welcomes people from all backgrounds to come together.”
The Pow Wow served not only as a celebration of Indigenous cultures, but as an educational opportunity for those who may not have learned about Indigenous history in school.
“What’s really important for the Pow Wow at McGill is to showcase who we are to the community—to students, staff, and faculty, and also to celebrate that we’re still here on Turtle Island,” Allan Vicaire, Director of the FPH, said. “Often times, what happens is [that] through the K-12 history [curriculum], there’s an erasure of Indigenous peoples, and we always want to say that we’re still here, we’re still vibrant, we’re still surviving, [and] we’re still resilient. McGill is an international university, and for newcomers, it’s everyone’s responsibility to learn about the original peoples here.”
Friday’s Pow Wow featured a variety of artisan vendors, Indigenous organizations, and performances throughout the day. Following the opening words and grand entry were a series of intertribal dances and Inuit throat singing. Aneeka Anderson, an Inuk U2 Arts student, and her sister Abigail Carleton performed traditional Inuit throat songs together. Anderson was intially hesitant to perform in front of such a large group but ultimately felt empowered by the experience.
“It took me a while to be in that space where I knew I could do it,” Anderson said. “I think, as Indigenous peoples, a real struggle is ‘are we Indigenous enough?’ But, for me to stand there in my regalia throat singing, having invited lots of people and encouraged them to experience this with me, allows me to feel like they know Inuit are here, and [that] they know [that] Inuit retain culture, have culture, [and] love our culture [….] Sometimes I believe I’m not Inuk enough, but, in this moment, I am.”
The FPH is dedicated to providing cultural, academic, and campus-wide resources to Indigenous students at McGill, and the Pow Wow is just one of many events they hold throughout the year. The FPH also offers weekly cultural events, such as drumming, beadings, and traditional dance sessions. They also offer Finding Your Voice sessions and monthly workshops geared towards academic success. Their next upcoming event is a workshop called “Decolonizing Consent: Reclaiming Land and Body” on Sept. 23, hosted in parternship with the Office for Sexual Violence Response, Support, and Education (OSVRSE). The focus of the event will be decolonizing trauma work and healing practices after assault, and looking at the connection between land and body for Indigenous peoples.