After a two-year break, McGill’s annual powwow returned to Montreal, featuring a full schedule of dances and more at the university’s downtown campus.
Dancing at McGill was an amazing experience for Konwatharani Jacobs, who danced for the first time with her daughter, f ive-year-old Iako’tarakehte on September 23.
“It was really her who pushed me to do it,” Jacobs said. “She was holding my hand, pushing me to dance with her. I did dance for her.”
Jacobs explained that when her daughter asked her to dance, she couldn’t say no.
“My daughter is the reason I do everything. She is the reason I am still here,” she explained.
“I made myself a dress in purple, which matches hers. Once I made the dress, I kind of had to dance!”
Jacobs’ dress took over 40 hours to make and was a matching Minnie and Mickey Mouse theme with her daughter’s.
Though she was nervous about her first dancing experience, the support of Iako’tarakehte gave Jacobs the confidence she needed to dance with pride.
“When I made my dress, you have to include a jingle for each day of the year, so 365 jingles,” she said.
“So then I realized I had an extra jingle from my daughter’s dress, and I put that on mine too. So I could carry that with me.”
As Iako’tarakehte danced with her mother, she let go of her hand and gave her some distance. Though dancing alone scared Jacobs, Iako’tarakehte wanted the chance to see her mother dance – and the audience would never know it was Jacobs’ first time from her beautiful movements and proud smile.
Jacobs noted that one of the highlights of the event was the group dance, where all attendees were invited to dance together.
“There were a lot of people from everywhere,” Jacobs noted, observing that in spite of the event happening at the bustling campus, there was real community spirit.
After exhibition and inter-tribal dances, Māori Haka dancers performed, educating attendees about the history and meaning of each dance before performing.
Another of Kahnawake’s own, Owen Mayo, led the men as head dancer. He took the time to explain to large crowds the history of certain dances.
“The reason I came out and decided to dance woodland is because I wanted to represent our people,” Mayo explained over the speakers. “Over the years, the Ojibwe people and the Anishinabeg people brought this style into the powwow world… Our regalias are very similar. We lived very close in the territories. We’re very close neighbours.”
Since 2017, McGill has made efforts to implement the 52 Calls to Action expressed by the Provost’s Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education, and recently appointed Celeste Pedri-Spade to the Office of associate provost (Indigenous Initiatives) to oversee the process.
Pedri-Spade, who is Anishinabe, is currently wrapping up her first month at McGill and was delighted to both attend and participate in the annual campus powwow.
“I think you can engage people who also don’t understand the significance of what we do here,” Pedri-Spade said, noting the attendance of non-Indigenous community members who supported the event and learned.
“Powwow isn’t just a celebration of culture; powwow is a key activity where people come and meet together with their families, where education happens, we talk politics too, it’s economic. We’re supporting local artists. I’m hoping people can understand the value and the significance of a gathering like this.”
The event was organized by McGill’s First Peoples’ House, a space on campus for Indigenous students to consider a ‘home away from home.’ Student volunteers who are part of the First Peoples’ House worked the event, sharing resources with fellow students and attendees about Indigenous life on campus.
Carina Torre, who is a third-year student at McGill, was delighted to attend the powwow and volunteer with the First Peoples’ House, having missed out on previous editions of the event as a result of the pandemic.
“It’s exciting. It’s been fun getting to be a part of it and help out where you can,” Torres said.
“The First Peoples’ House is a great resource. I love it. They’re really there for us. I got a summer internship through learning about things at the First Peoples’ House. I’ve made so many friends. It feels like a place on campus I can always go and be comfortable.”
McGill’s powwow should – if no more global pandemics get in the way – be back to regular programming from this point on, and students and community members alike will continue to enjoy gathering on the university’s Lower Field. Prospective students are encouraged to reach out to the First Peoples’ House for any questions or information about Indigenous life at the university.