Youth Pow Wow celebrates Indigenous culture

School District 8’s Youth Pow Wow brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth and community members to celebrate Indigenous culture through dance, music, regalia and educational teachings.

3 minute read

Over 2,000 students experience traditional dance and teachings at annual event

Picture a vast, open arena surrounded by spectators, with the rhythmic beat of drums reverberating through the air. Dancers, adorned in a dazzling array of regalia, move gracefully yet energetically to the drum’s pulse.

Forming a circle to symbolize unity and the cyclical nature of life, students and Indigenous dancers move from traditional footwork to more contemporary styles in the intertribal dance, reflecting the dynamic and evolving nature of Indigenous culture on display during School District 8’s Youth Pow Wow.

The SD8 Youth Pow Wow Planning Committee, also known as “The Circle of Aunties,” organized the first youth Pow Wow in 2010 for all district students, both Indigenous and their non-Indigenous allies. Since then, the annual free gathering supported by Columbia Basin Trust has been a valuable opportunity for everyone to learn and participate in Indigenous-led cultural activities.

Aunties Josie Fullarton and Noelle Lavallee were moved to see empty stands when students flocked to the dance floor during this year’s district-wide event, held May 17 at the Creston and District Community Complex.

“All the students were dancing, doing the basic steps, which is a validation of the years of teaching Pow Wow protocol,” says Fullarton. “The committee has been working hard for many years so that students understand the importance of the protocols in the space of pow wow. Seeing the respect they hold for the space was a beautiful affirmation.”

Now in its 14th year, the event brought together 26 schools and over 2,000 students and community members to celebrate Indigenous culture through traditional dance and Indigenous educational teachings. Elders were also in attendance and were notably impressed when approximately 200 students stood as a collective to perform the hoop dance.

“Pow Wow is an opportunity for Indigenous students to feel proud and stand out,” says Lavallee. “It’s an opportunity to welcome Indigenous community members into our learning, and an opportunity for students, families and the public to actively participate in the learning, as well as have many conversations and teaching moments.”

Indigenous and Metis peoples from around the region were honoured during the flag ceremony, part of the grand entry featuring graduates. Following the ceremonial procession, dancers entered the arena celebrating an array of dances, including the potato dance, grass dance, fancy shawl dance, hoop dance, and more.

For Jesse Halton, SD8’s District Indigenization Coordinator and District Diversity Education Teacher Coordinator, seeing the Indigi-queer flag included for a second year speaks to the inclusivity of the annual event.

“Pow Wow gives our entire community the opportunity to celebrate their culture and who they are and who they have been for thousands and thousands of years,” Halton says. “It’s important we create this celebratory cultural space, because it was something that was taken away from us through colonization and through the residential school system; now we dance for those people who didn’t and who can’t.”

Education is a key component leading up to each event, with a month of virtual and in-person sessions taking place to share Pow Wow knowledge with students across the communities within SD8 and beyond. Organizers sought guidance from Pow Wow knowledge keepers within the community of yaqan nuɁkiy as well as from “around the Pow Wow trail,” including expert advice from world famous Pow Wow MC Ruben Littlehead.

The SD8 Kootenay Lake mission is to inspire and support each student to thrive in a caring learning environment, which includes Indigenous education focusing on nurturing holistic resilience and brilliance through belonging, pride, and identity. And although Pow Wow events have deep meaning and are rooted in education, Halton, a two-spirit and Indigi-queer person with Piikani ancestry, says, above all, they’re a lot of fun.

“I think all of the senses are activated at Pow Wow—emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical. The taste, the touch, the sound, everything,” says Halton. “It is a wonderful experience. There’s a lot of joy, and there’s a lot of pride seeing those students who are dancing for the first time. It’s about just being proud of who they are as Indigenous people practicing the culture and being given the opportunity to do so.”

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