Home Arts & Culture Powwow brings medicine to wintertime 

Powwow brings medicine to wintertime 

Courtesy Don Barnaby

Although powwow season is often synonymous with summer, a time for celebration and gathering doesn’t always need to wait for the warmer months. 

A massive crowd lined the entrance of the Wilder Building on De Bleury St. in Montreal to attend the Keeping Our Winter Fires Burning Powwow last Sunday, March 3. 

“There was literally like a line down the street, people trying to get in,” said Don Barnaby, who was the arena director at the event. “The turnout was just unbelievable.” 

Kahnawa’kehró:non Kwena Boivin and Owen Skahionwiio Mayo treated the audience as the head dancers, accompanied by Ottawa River Singers as the host drum, with Red Tail Spirit Singers as the co-host drums.  

“We had a really great, great time, very comfortable time. Everybody just really needed that medicine, and especially you’re getting it in the wintertime,” said Barnaby. 

The first iteration of the event took place in 2020, hosted by the MAQAHATINE collective, which means “Let’s gather altogether” in Wolastoqey. The aim was to create more space and opportunity for Indigenous Peoples in Tiohtià:ke to gather in the wintertime.  

The event was intended to provide a community-building opportunity for Indigenous dancers, drummers, and people in general involved in these traditions,” said Thomasina Phillips, who took part in organizing the event. “There are fewer opportunities and events over the winter, so our goal was to facilitate that connection.” 

For Anishinaabe visual artist Cedar Eve, who was one of the vendors at the powwow, the effort resonated.  

“Having more opportunities to have social gatherings like that is really important in the city, and it was nice that this one happened in the middle of winter.”  

Aside from selling beaded jewelry and screen-printed clothing under her eponymous brand Cedar Eve Creations, she also got the chance to reconnect with old friends and meet other Indigenous vendors.  

“There’s just something really special about powwows. It is a community event, so it brings everyone together and it feels like a safe space,” she said.  

The energy at the venue was palpable.  

The last hour was spent doing intertribal dances with up to 60 people – attendees and dancers alike – sharing the arena to dance.  

“There was a lot of energy. There was a real lot of energy. It was all good energy,” Barnaby said.  

With 25 years as a dancer, it’s safe to say Barnaby is no stranger to powwows. But this one marked a first-ever experience for him when Nina Segalowitz asked him to sing with her.  

“I never did any throat singing before, so it was a really great experience because I’ve always admired it as a spectator,” he said.  

Barnaby said he had only seen women throat sing before, but Segalowitz went on to explain how the custom was also practiced among men.  

“She was telling the story about how men, when they would come back from their hunts, they had their own songs, they talked about how big the moose was, or how long the fish was, and the story would go on and go on and by the end, the small fish would be the size of a whale.” 

The nerves quickly faded, and he took the stage with her to perform a song – it’s a competition between two singers with the goal of being the first to make the other person laugh. “I have so much love and respect for Nina that I was honored.” 

“It was a really amazing, good vibe in the air. Everybody just had such an amazing time,” said Barnaby. 


This article was originally published in print on March 8 in issue 33.10 of The Eastern Door.

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Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.

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Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.