By Mariam Nouser and Elizabeth Sargeant
The annual XU Pow Wow took place via live stream on Sept. 24, closing out the university’s Indigenous Education Week events and offering a space for community members to gather, dance and celebrate Indigenous culture.
This year’s Pow Wow was the first event since being renamed to XU Pow Wow, following increased calls for the university to change its name and cut ties with its colonial namesake.
Sam Howden, an organizer at XU Wreckonciliation, a group of Indigenous students advocating for reconciliation and change at the university, opened the event with a statement regarding the decision to remove the name Ryerson from the university’s annual Pow Wow.
“[Egerton] Ryerson contributed to the genocidal project of Indigenous people through educational policy and the residential school system,” said Howden. “A lot of work has gone into this journey of disrupting and resisting white supremacy at this institution with the removal of the statue and the changing of the name.”
Howden said, “Indigenous people have seen a lot of reports, but not a lot of changes.”
The student-led Pow Wow aired on Sept. 24 on YouTube, in collaboration with Saagajiwe Interdisciplinary Centre for Indigenous Research and Creation, The Creative School, The Fashion Zone, Canadian Heritage and Miziwe Biik, an Indigenous employment and training organization.
The virtual event featured various Indigenous speakers with ‘two-minute teachings’ and traditional dancing in pre-recorded videos.
The ‘two-minute teachings’ preceded each performance and were held by individuals with extensive knowledge on the dances. Each teaching focused on the cultural and spiritual significance of each dance and historical facts about them.
One of the ‘two-minute teachings’ was led by Thunder Jack, an Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee grass dancer and singer, who spoke about the grass dance and its significance.
“One of the first dances that bless the grounds of a celebration…the grass dance represents bravery, love and commitment and they are the true warriors of our people,” said Jack.
Jack also spoke about the uniqueness of the regalia each dancer wore, as no two people have the same one.
According to the XU Pow Wow website, “Regalia is the clothing that dancers wear. It is not a costume. Regalia is often spiritually or historically significant: either handed down through generations, handmade by family members, or meticulously crafted by the individual. Regalia has deep personal and ceremonial significance.”
Rockers, which are made from eagle plumes, are a part of the regalia that offer protection to the dancing, Jack said. They sit on top of the roach on the head of the dancer and dance with them.
The featured dancers pre-recorded their grass dances in an outdoor setting, with dancers having solo and shared screen time during the live stream.
Adrien Klein, an Oneida and Ojibwe head dancer from Windsor, Ont., was chosen to lead the dancers at this year’s Pow Wow.
“I have been dancing since I could walk…since I was two years old,” said Klein. “I thank X University for honouring me and my wife by choosing us to be the head dancers.”
Klein’s wife Krystal Bigsky, from the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan, also joined him in expressing her thanks toward the university for the opportunity to lead.
The youth head dancers included Nazarene Pope and Emilee-Ann Pitawaanakwat. The girls opened by dancing Fancy Shawl and Hoop Dance, intertwined with clips of other young women from Indigenous communities across Canada performing their own variations.
According to We R Native, the Fancy Shawl dance is one of the most athletic dance styles. It is also the most recent, created to allow Native American women to express the same enthusiasm and show-style as the men’s Fancy Dance.
The Hoop Dance uses hops as the main prop of the dance and can have as little as four and as much as 50 hoops at a time.
Jingle Dress Side Step
The Jingle Dress Side Step was performed by four dancers wearing jingle dresses, a form of regalia, with the screen split to show different variations of the dance. The Jingle Dress Side Step originated from Ojibwe tradition and is traditionally used to represent healing and cultural pride.
Randi Candline from Bigstone Cree Nation in Alberta Treaty Eight Territory was one of the dancers and explained that when she performs the Jingle Dress Dance, she likes to add something unique.
“Before I begin my dancing, I raise my hand,” she said. “I was taught that when a dancer raises their bare hand to the sky, what they’re implying is that they are asking to receive prayers and blessings in their own life.”
“By raising my hand, I am taking a moment to tell myself that I am important, I matter and I am just as useful as all the people around me.”
The Straight Song featured Pitawaanakwat and dancers from different communities and age groups.
The Straight Song involves a lot of footwork and many dancers took to the outdoors to dance in the sunshine.
Lila Pine, who is Mi’kmaq and the director of Saagajiwe, reflected on the land and the pandemic following the dance.
“We would never have dreamed we would be making speeches to the camera or dancing alone in fields…and yet these times were prophesied, passed down from generations. We are reminded of other teachings by our Elders to go back to the land. The land contains the medicines we need to heal.”
Lisa Odjij, an Ojibwe World Champion Hoop Dancer, introduced the dance. Odjij was the first woman to become a World Championship Hoop Dancer in 2016, a competition that takes place annually in Phoenix, Arizona.
“The hoop dance is traditionally a storytelling dance and a healing dance. The hoops create formations, designs and symbols of nature. It shows our beautiful connection with the land and each other,” said Odjij.
Pitawaanakwat, the head youth dancer, was the sole dancer, starting with three hoops, and incorporating two more as she danced outdoors. According to Odjij, it’s not about how many hoops you have, but what you can do with them.
“That’s the teaching with life too,” she said. “Making the best with what you have and honouring your life, mind, body, health and spirit.”
The Crow Hop featured five dancers from across North America, including lead dancer Klein and Dianne and John Hupfield from the Wasauksing First Nation community in Parry Sound.
The Crow Hop dance is done with a specific rhythm and beat, and all genders were encouraged to participate.
Pitawaanakwat returned to dance the Robin Dance alone.
“I’m honoured to be dancing at X University Pow Wow,” Pitawaanakwat exclaimed.
The dance was just less than a minute long and focused heavily on footwork.
The intertribal dance was the final dance at the Pow Wow. It featured 13 dancers from a variety of different age groups and communities showcasing a variety of different styles and regalia.
Hosts of the Pow Wow Jennifer Alicia Murrin, M’ikmaq and settler from Bay Of Islands, N.L. and Denise McLeod, Anishnaabe Kwe of Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation, closed out the celebration.
“It was so good to see all the people dancing their styles and showing how resilient we are as a community,” said McLeod. “We like to say chi miigwech to all the dancers, all the drummers and all the community members who were speaking about teachings. We will see you next year.”
Community members can rewatch the Pow Wow on the XU Pow Wow Youtube channel.