“It’s crazy, it’s hot, my feet hurt, but it’s been amazing,” said Megan Day, who this year had a booth for her business Ally & Megan Native Creations, which she owns with her mother, Allison McGregor. “There are so many different cultures, and it’s just as much fun for me to learn about what they’re doing as it is for them coming here to see what I’m doing.”
It was a record-breaking year for the Echoes of a Proud Nation Pow-Wow, with 17,000 attendees coming out over two days for the 31st edition.
The powwow committee began meeting in March, dividing up tasks and coming up with new ideas to make this year’s powwow the most well-attended yet. Kimberly Cross, a key member of the planning committee, said the group worked hard to make travelling to this year’s powwow accessible, organizing a new shuttle with parking at both Magic Palace and Playground.
Though it was challenging to pull everything together in time, she said it was all worth it to see attendees enjoying themselves on the day.
“Everyone’s watching the dancers, listening to the drummers, just experiencing what we planned. It’s just amazing,” she said. “We laughed as a committee when we were giving out prizes at the end to all of the dancers. We stood there and we were like ‘wow, another one passed by, and we didn’t even realize!’ We’re so busy, we don’t realize it.”
Cross and the rest of the planning committee will debrief soon to reflect on what should be changed and what should stay the same in coming years, but she encourages community members to reach out directly with any and all suggestions.
“We’re also always looking for new community volunteers, so if people want to come and join our committee as well, we’re open to that. We have lots of spots open,” she said, noting that committee member Sandra McComber has just retired from the committee after 31 years. “We’d really like to fill her spot. We’re all working and dedicated community members, and we’re really hoping that people will come on, because that’s how we’re going to see things grow.”
The day saw dancers travel from far and wide to participate in the powwow, with master of ceremonies Gordon Sands travelling from London, Ontario, for a second year to MC the event. Sands is from Bkejwanong territory and the Poundmaker Cree Nation and has been MCing powwows for years. This is his second year as MC at Echoes of a Proud Nation.
“The MC in this biz is more than just a spokesperson. People are really there for spiritual fulfilment,” said Sands. “People are really looking to be moved on a spiritual level, and that’s not just my own people, but it’s any visitor that comes here. My priority is to make sure I’m including everyone, including our LGBTQ+ members, too. I’m not just speaking to my own demographic. Everybody needs to be taken care of.”
Sands said the highlight of the weekend was seeing so much participation, especially from Onkwehón:we who made a special effort to travel.
“The powwow is sometimes the one opportunity people have to get out and have a really good time and some fun and enjoy the singing and dancing,” he said. “What I really like is when we have a really long stretch in the program when the powwow dancers are just doing their thing, and you can just see the people itching to get up and give it a try, ready to participate. All the happy and smiling faces really give me a lot of pleasure and joy.”
One such visitor giving things a try for the first time was Gabrielle Vendette. She came from Montreal with her friends to experience her first-ever powwow.
“It’s been a lot of fun. I ate really great food, so my belly is very full and happy, and I’m amazed at the number of artisans that are here; all the beadwork they’re selling is beautiful,” Vendette said. “I’m definitely coming back, and I’m going to bring more people next year!”
As well as being impressed by the powwow’s food and craft offerings, visitors flocked to watch the dancers throughout the weekend. One young dancer, Yagoriwahnirats Shilling, was particularly proud to be dancing, something she says is important to celebrating her Ojibwe-Kanien’kehá:ka identity.
“Ever since I was very young, I’ve been knowing the culture and the language,” Shilling said, explaining that her favourite dance is jingle. “It’s fun to do, and it has a big meaning behind it. It’s an original Anishinaabe-Ojibwe dance, actually, and it’s supposed to mean that I’m saying thank you to the Earth.”
Shilling was also proud to wear her regalia, a mix of things made by loved ones and passed down from generations.
“These are really special, because they’re very old. They were made by someone way up in Nunavut,” she explained, pointing to the long furs tied to her braids. “I don’t know how they got down here, but my grandma gave it to me, and these are real weasels on my hair at the end.”
Shilling’s moccasins were also made by her cousin, and her jingle dress bought at another powwow she travelled to.
“It feels special wearing this. Most of the stuff that dancers wear is homemade or bought from a powwow,” she said.
From the tiny tot dancers to veteran powwow attendees, Kahnawake’s 31st Echoes of a Proud Nation Pow-Wow had much to boast about. McGregor, the other half of Ally and Megan Native Creations, was especially moved by the end of the weekend.
“It makes you so proud to be Indigenous. I just can’t explain it,” she said. “Family, friends, people you’ve met throughout the years always come back here. And that’s the best feeling in the world.”
This article was originally published in print on Friday, July 14, in issue 32.28 of The Eastern Door.