Naicatchewenin First Nation

As the open road warmly embraces three generations of dancers, Treaty 3 territory smiles right back as we whisk our vehicle through curvy roads bordered with lakes, treetops and far open lands. Headed to the beautiful little community of Naicatchewenin First Nation for their 40th annual Powwow celebrations.

Just a month prior I was in the same location, presenting to the youth of Naicatchewenin First Nation and surrounding communities at the same newly built wooden arbor. After that presentation, two members of the powwow committee approached me with tobacco and asked in a respectful way if I would come back to represent as head lady dancer for their powwow. Honoured, I accepted. I had never been a head dancer in the many years I’ve danced so the new experience and opportunity excited me.

The day finally approached. As we left, the sun was just sitting overhead, ready for our 4-hour journey into their beautiful territory. We set up camp atop of one of the hills overlooking the powwow grounds close to some friends from Winnipeg who had also travelled over for the celebration.

The next few days were fulfilling and good for the soul. Late nights spent by the fire at our camp, watching the flames dance in the summer breeze, listening to the nightly creatures roam around the land, looking high into the sky at the brightest stars and Milky Way twinkling. Thinking deeply about this life and all experiences and opportunities that lead me to that very moment. Getting lost amongst constellations and wishing upon shooting stars. Sharing laughs with my mother and grandmother, as we lay snuggled in our tent.

The community was amazing. They were very hospitable and generous. Each morning we were greeted by smiling faces that cooked up massive delicious feasts for breakfast at the community gym. We were also served grand feasts for dinner; Tender fresh fish fry, moose meat, handmade wild rice, potatoes, bannock and vegetables. We were also offered a beautiful cabin just a few kilometres outside of the community but I had decided to stay within the community and camp amongst the locals and stay close to the powwow grounds.

The community and powwow committee also allotted me space and time to host a dance special! I raised enough funds to put together an “Empowering Our Youth” special for kids ages 12 and under. The four places were granted to those youth who danced hard for the people with high energy and smiles. They were then granted a set of their own hoops and some prize money for them and their families. The drum group, “Little Foot”, then honoured them with an honour song. I also made sure that every youth didn’t walk away without anything so I put together consolation honorariums and put together a handmade motivating gift for each young one. I felt this special was important, as the committee members had mentioned most of the people in the community haven’t seen hoop dancing and many are dealing with healing journeys of their own through intergenerational traumas. So in order to empower the young ones to keep dancing and carry on these traditions I held this special.

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Almost over 70 youth filled the circle, dancing hard for the smiling elders under the hot summer sun. Their beaded and sewn regalia sparkling in the sunshine, their fringes and ribbons whipping all around to become a beautiful wonderful blur of colours and resiliency. I was in awe. I felt proud of all of them and their families cheering them on from the sides. It was incredibly difficult to choose only four dancers to receive the hoops but with the help of my mother, grandmother and the headman dancer, we put our minds together and decided on four who’s spirits lit up when they danced.

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It was a memorable experience that I will cherish and I hope to see these young ones grow with their hoops or still see dancing as we all grow through the years still following that red road and powwow trail.

On some time off, my family and I explored the beach where the locals swim and we shared stories and laughs with some new families we met there. Being a head dancer we had many roles. Each and every grand entry and retreat we were there, dancing behind the honoured flag carriers, elders and dignitaries. We judged dance competitions, supported all honour songs, spot dances and traditional sacred whistles that were blown and above all we just danced. Danced for our communities, for the community of Naicatchewenin, for the youth and elders. We danced to pray and to heal and to represent Indigenous country with our heads held high, with our feet and moccasins connected to our mother the earth, praying with each step of light for that water just a few meters over. Praying for the continuation of healing nationwide for our people and that renewal and reclamation of our identities.

It was a beautiful time spent with family, community, outside on the land and opening our minds to connect, experience and grow.

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Exciting Updates!

Tanisi – Hello!

Hey, happy hump day! (published on a Wednesday obviously – hopefully this opening line grabbed your attention instead of losing it, because sometimes I think i’m funny and clever when really I’m not).

Moving along, I would just like to do a stream of consciousness, a stream of words typed out onto my laptop screen to be read by potential readers who may or may not be interested in my exciting developments and insight into the little life of Shan. So here it goes.

First of all, I don’t think I properly acknowledged or announced my new domain in a blog post yet, but I secured the domain name of http://www.anishanaabe.com! How sick is that!? I would also like to point out how clever I feel and also the meaning behind this title. So, Anishinaabe is usually spelled with an “I” like I just did, but I changed the “I” to an “A” so that my name is also within the website title. Thus making it Ani – SHAN – aabe. Does that make sense? I thought it was a pretty clever name. Anyway, a new domain means a new whole journey. I hope to grow this little online business through travel and lifestyle blogging and to become a self-employed Indigenous woman boss badass. That’s the goal anyway. So here I will put a plea of please finding it within your heart to support this little project of mine through subscribing to this website and take it a step further by sharing it with your friends. I really want to focus on growing this website and little business of mine, so you will now see more consistent and quality blog posts.

There is a lot of exciting opportunities and experiences coming up that I will also announce now so that you can start to get excited for potential future posts.

  1. I have booked by first solo trip to Cuba where I will stay with a host family and explore the local Cuban culture, lounge on the beautiful Vardero beach, take day trips to Havana, Trinidad, etc. and hopefully meet new people with similar interests. I hope to gain some insight into what it will be like to be a solo female traveler!
  2. I will be turning a quarter century old at the end of June so perhaps I will try my shot at instilling some of my wisdom I have gathered throughout my 25 years on this planet. lol.
  3. I will be attending the Winnipeg Folk Festival 2017 in July, but there’s a twist! This year I’ll be an actual performer! Say whaaaat? with the backstage access pass and everything. I will be hoop dancing alongside my little sister Rylee Sandberg with the amazing DJ Shub at the “Big Blue @ Night” Stage Saturday night with mini workshops throughout the days on Saturday and Sunday.
     
  4. In October 2017 I will be traveling to Santiago Chile to attend the World Indigenous Business Forum. On top of that, I will be exploring the city and then taking an extra week to venture off to Machu Picchu. Crossing that off my travel bucket list and I’m extremely excited.

These are just four of the many exciting opportunities that I’ll be up to this year and that will surely be highlights. However, there will be many more adventures in between that I will also be posting about. I would also like to take the time now to switch gears over to a new feature that I have instilled on this website which includes YOU! the wonderful readers and blogging community! I hope to feature a monthly guest here on the site under the tab marked “community”. With this, I hope to gain a fair amount of entries and I will pick a person every month. The community post from you can include anything from a guest blog post about a subject you are passionate about, it can be a multi-media project, it can be photography, written works like poetry or short stories or anything that is related to who you are and where you are from. This is a chance to share your voice, in whichever way you like and to also promote yourself. So please start sharing with your friends of this awesome opportunity and start sending in your entries.

Before I log off, I would also like to ask, how are you doing? How are you really doing? Have you asked yourself this lately? For myself personally, I’ve been asking these important questions and I have discovered that I have been a wild mixture of emotion, thought and weird transition adulting stage in my life. Perhaps some of you can relate. I have felt this vibe or energy of a shift in my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual being. Now that i’ve graduated from something that I’ve known my entire 25 years of educational institutionalization, I feel like i’m floating. I don’t really know what’s next and that’s both incredibly terrifying but also extremely exciting. I am in a stage of my 20s where I am exploring more of who I am. I am discovering new interests, new passions and I feel like I’m graciously growing into womanhood and shedding away my younger self. I’m beginning to find new ways to move forward and to regain my independence. I feel a shift in who I am, a change, a growth and I’m learning to embrace it and go with the flow. I want to say “yes” to more opportunities, I want to slay the game in my business and to work towards my goals and dreams with confidence. I’ll be honest though, its not all healing and holistic and easy. It’s messy and scary to confront your fears, to bring your voice forward and to trust yourself. It’s challenging but also very gratifying to realize your own potential and what you can be capable of. It is amazing to look around and see that you are surrounded by those who love you dearly and who want to help and support you in any way possible. Life is full of ups and downs, twists and turns. You just gotta put your hands up and embrace the ride.

Phew, okay I’m done. It feels so good to have these thoughts down in a post and to send it off into virtual internet land. Please leave a comment below, perhaps send me some entries if you’d like to be a featured monthly guest and don’t forget to subscribe/follow to this blog. Thank you all so much, take care for now!

~ Shan.

Reminiscence of the Miss Indian World Contestant experience.

The days of April 25th – May 1st and those leading up were a pure whirlwind that took my world by its roots and nourished them with adoration; a whirlwind that took me to new heights and greater understanding and respect for the world around me. An unforgettable experience that consisted of adrenaline highs, altitude sickness lows and all the amazing fun times through that, far and wide and in between.

For the first time in awhile I dug deep to find the courage to apply and run as a “Miss Indian World” contestant at the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In past years I had never felt fully confident in myself and my abilities and the title of “Miss Indian World” seemed incredibly prestigious including the criteria of a young, beautiful, confident Indigenous woman with strong cultural knowledge, abilities to represent entire Indigenous nations across the world, speaking from her heart and showcasing her true self to the world. I always thought to myself, of course I wasn’t deemed fit for that. However, at this time I would like to thank those strong, beautiful and resilient women who inspired and mentored me throughout the years to the point where I felt ready to embark on this experience. To my mother Melanie Dean who paved the way my entire life, implanting that seed of cultural knowledge, raising me in a home with our traditional instruments, medicines, teachings and creating intricate works of regalia for every stage of my growth. I also thank my grandmother who also shared with me her wisdom and stories and offered her support and care. These two women were my prime examples growing up, following in their footsteps and striving for self-respect, self-love and an all seven sacred teachings attitude toward our self and the world around us. With this thanks, I would like to extend it to the rest of my family from my Nihithaw “Swampy Cree” roots on my mother’s side from our community of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation. Including all of my aunts, uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers and countless cousins who supported my journey throughout the years. I would also like to acknowledge and thank my father Andrew Spence and my Anishinaabe/Ojibway roots from my father’s side from the community of Lake St. Martin First Nation. I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for that acknowledgement of both my Cree and Ojibway identity.

The thank you list continues, hang in there. Please do not turn away, as these people are vital to the story and deserve all of the recognition in the world. I’d like to thank those community mentors who have inspired me, those who I looked up to and found guidance from including Tasha and Leslie Spillet, Miss Lisa Meeches, Wab Kinew and Lisa Kinew, Connie Constant, Ray and Rhonda Stevenson, Violet Duncan and many many others. All of these people have paved the way for us as Indigenous peoples. Becoming well known in their home communities and being amazing people in their own ways, thus becoming role models and mentors for young Indigenous women like myself. Tasha and Wab specifically helped me with writing incredible recommendation letters and Lisa has always motivated me toward running. I’d also like to acknowledge Hilda Bighetty: super awesome phenomenal elder and cousin who helped me with my Nihithaw language that I would later include into my speeches, introductions and recognitions. All of these beautiful souls helped build together the courage to represent myself as a Nihithaw and Anishinaabe woman and to also bring a voice to Mathias Colomb Cree Nation and Lake St. Martin First Nation and speak on behalf of issues that I felt were important in our Canadian society including youth empowerment, mental health and (MMIWG) missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

Youth empowerment encompasses youth from all nations and backgrounds but of course also specifically within Indigenous youth. Providing them with the tools and resources to feel empowered toward reclaiming who they are as Indigenous young people; Reclaiming songs, dances, traditions, languages, stories, etc. and being proud of that. Bring empowerment to educate themselves on their rich histories and find ways to move forward in this ever-expanding world. Also empowerment to non-indigenous youth to do the same, learn about who you are, where you come from and learn to keep an open mind and open heart to those around you. Create safe spaces of acceptance and equality among your peers, find ways to diminish racism and discrimination and violence in your community, for we are all related and we all need reconciliation and healing.

In regards to mental health, this is a topic I am also passionate about because I have experienced my own path of mental health in forms of anxiety, panic attacks and depression. It is a story that I was ashamed of for many years and kept a lot of it to myself but it was through the strength of sharing my voice and asking for help that brought healing into my life. The hoop dance and a lot of my cultural teachings also played a major role in this growth. I hope to grow to be a strong advocate for these issues and bring a heightened awareness to mental health and its ties with Indigenous communities in terms of intergenerational effects, adaption to urban lifestyle, etc.

And of course my final platform of MMIWG, after attended countless candle lit vigils, watching the tears and outcries from elders in my community, watching as fear set into the young women in my community and watching close friends, family and community members have to deal with a lost loved one. This is an epidemic happening in Winnipeg and all across Canada that needs to be fully addressed, talked about and given action from all levels of peoples from our self, to our communities, to our nations and through out governments and those in power. We need change.

With each young woman backed with their platforms in mind, the pageant began with a fun orientation dinner where all of us young women met each other and our chaperones. The next day we were straight into traditional wear and private interviews. The holding room was full of nerves, laughs, coffee and snacks as well as beautiful, motivating and inspiring positive talks from the committee members. Following the interviews we had another dinner at an aquarium where we were distracted by the large pointed toothed sharks, funny looking fish and ancient looking turtles. This is when we also did the raffle draw. At this point I would also like to thank all of you who supported and bought raffle tickets even it was only one with the 2.50 in your pocket or if you bought 50! The support was greatly appreciated and I was very proud in the fact that I had sold all 1000 tickets. It was a fun evening and by this point I was more relaxed with the amazing group of women and committee members.

The next day was the huge talent production at the Kiva Auditorium with rehearsals all day starting at 8am sharp leading up to the main event at 7pm. I had chosen to fuse together traditional and contemporary powwow music together and bring forward my teachings on the traditional Indigenous hoop dance. The day was full of fear, excitement, dancing, massage trains, random break outs in song, braiding of hair, makeup fun with the Aveda team, all of us practicing in any space we could find vacant including showers, bathroom stalls, hallways or quietly in a corner. This was a day where I feel like we all truly bonded over funny family and travel stories, through sharing our experiences and common feelings and creating friendship and networks that would leave us feeling supported, grounded and ready for the night ahead. Let’s just say, I believe this was the pinnacle turning point of the whole week. The amount of adrenaline and pride I had up on that stage, giving it all that I had, dancing hard and speaking from the heart to the audience. Then afterwards being greeted by a roomful of applause from my newfound sisters. This was followed by an influx of crowd after the show; peoples young and old approached me in enthusiasm with an overwhelming array of questions, compliments and photographs. Through the blur of people I was on a mission to find my loving family through the sea of faces. The moment I found them my mom broke out in tears which then initiated the empathetic tear train from myself, my grandmother, my aunty, Lisa (one of the hosts of the talent show) and Candice. In that moment, I felt on top of the world, I felt proud in my performance and I could feel the immense amount of love and energy pouring from my family and those audience members who approached me and the rest of us girls after the show. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I spoke and danced with the strength of my ancestors deep in my heart, I danced to honor my family, my community and those who were in attendance that night. This performance won the award for “Best Traditional Presentation” on the final day.

The days that followed consisted of the the grand “Gathering of Nations” powwow! Nations represented from all over turtle island, North America and beyond. It was held at their new home at the Tingly Coliseum – Fitting name as the grand entry and the powwow always leaves most of us with the tingly feelings. Neeeh haha – This is me trying to offer some comic relief now, not too great at it ay? Anyways, our days were full of dancing in the grand entry, a feeling all on its own. The bright spotlights reflecting off our intricate regalia, our ribbons and fringes ready to whip, our feathers standing tall and our heads held high. The moment of first walking in to that arena, all eyes on you from every direction, the jingles of the bells and the bass of that drumbeat pounding through your entire being. The singing of that grand entry song as the announcer introduces each category into the circle. To be a spectator of the grand entry is marvelous but to be a participant within the grand entry, to be surrounded by nations, pride, dancers and constant flowing energies is beyond anything I’ve ever felt before.

Throughout the powwow times, us girls had our public speaking competition out at Stage 49, our dance competition and of course the crowning and awards ceremony that took place after the final grand entry of the final day of the powwow. During this time I became deeply reflective mode Shan. When am I never deeply reflective mode Shan though, am I right? Anyways…the whole day I was reflecting on everything I had learned, gained and found through this experience. I was thinking about everyone back home and those who were keeping up with this adventure online throughout social media updates or on the live stream. I was thinking about the youth, the elders and the community members back home. I was thinking about our ancestors who perhaps prayed and dreamed about a day like today where we were all gathered in that one place in pride. I reflected a lot on the past, present and future and above all I reflected very deeply about whom I am, whom I’ve become and whom I strive to be moving forward. The moment that they called my name for Second Runner up I was astonished. All of my hard work paid off and excitedly I ran up to Danielle who passed over to me the banner and gorgeous award with flowers. I would also love to congratulate the First Runner up, Mykhal Mendoza and of course the amazing Raven Swaamp. They were both so deserving of the titles they won and I know they will both do amazing at representing Indian country. I also want to congratulate my fellow sisters who also worked incredibly hard and represented their home nations with pride too. Each and every one of them inspired me and brought forward valuable moments and experiences that I will cherish for a very long time.

With all of this being said, I would like to thank everyone for reading up to this point and if I left anyone out of the thank you list I apologize, but please know everyone’s words, thoughts, prayers and immense support was deeply appreciated by little ol’ me and I am honored to have had this opportunity and to have been guided on this path in my life.

You may be asking, “K now what?” and in response to that, I’m going to keep doing the work that I am doing. I am going to continue to represent myself, our ancestors and our nations in the best way I know how through hoop dancing, fancy shawl dancing and speaking in regards to our reclamation as Indigenous peoples, bringing to light issues that are still prevalent in our society, raise awareness of topics I am passionate about and continue to try and inspire the next generations and change the world in the little ways that I can. Here’s to upward and onwards. See you on the trail! 😉

All my relations, ekosi – thank you.

  • Shan

P.S – Please enjoy the snapshots below that don’t even represent or encapsulate the amazing trip that we had or display the multitude of emotions, events and feelings that occurred throughout. Feel free to click on a photo for a longer description of that particular photo.

Thoughts from the road – Beginnings of the Miss Indian World Experience!

Tansi,

Hello readers!

Road trips often result in the deepest reflections. Long hours of highways and changing landscapes, delving further into unknowns and driving further away from what we know, who we know and where we come from.

On this trip in particular, I have been thinking about each and every one of you. Everyone who is taking the time to read my thoughts carefully typed out into constructive sentences, everyone who has lovingly supported this journey, and those who have inspired and mentored me throughout my years of growing up. Those who have come into my life to teach me lessons, those who have offered kind words of support or critique and most of all, my close and distant family who have been the backbone and foundation for all that I do. I truly appreciate and honour all of you. I keep you close to my heart as I embark on this new adventure.

As we left Winnipeg, I was mixed with emotion. I was full of fear and sadness as I drove further away from those I love, my friends and community. However I was full of an immense amount of excitement, knowing that I would be driving toward a new experience with the potential to change my life, a chance and platform to stand proudly as a Nihithaw and Anishinaabe woman. Growing up, through ceremony and powwows I was greeted with that pride of our community. It was my home and it was through dance where I learned my biggest life lessons about myself. This included my limits, fears, visions and ultimately my Indigenous identity. It was also through dance where I was met with boundless opportunities to meet with other cultural communities, spread awareness and education about our Indigenous nations in Canada, to speak on behalf of the teachings that I was gifted with, to dance for that healing for our peoples, to put a smile on a diverse array of audiences, to instill that hope within our elders that the next generation was continuing with our dances and teachings and to reconnect to those deep depths of who I am.

The first day was fairly easy, only driving a few hours to Fargo, North Dakota. The second day we managed to drive through 3 states! Making sure we had enough time to stop, move about a little, dance, practice my speech, fuel our bodies with nutrition and maybe a little too much chocolate and popcorn and enjoy the scenic route. We even had time to greet the gorgeous Missouri River that popped up just as we turned a corner, its waters glistening in the sunlight. We said hello, dipped our toes in, skipped a few pebbles and kept on.

All the while, I was thinking about everyone back home in Winnipeg and the intense April snowstorm that hit, wondering what everyone was getting up to and then also thinking about the pageant and how it will be like meeting all of the other beautiful young women. Also pondering about what the competition was going to be like and if I’d do well. Wondering about this huge responsibility that we all took upon, to be ambassadors, role models and mentors and the huge responsibility it will be to who ever takes that crown. How beautiful it will be to witness in person, side by a side, a new Miss Indian World. I can’t wait to fully commit myself to learning all that I can, trying my ultimate best, pushing past my own walls and barriers that I had built over so many years and to conquer my fears to find all that is meant for me on that other side of fear.

For the Miss Indian World pageant, there are 5 elements that we all had to focus on, an essay we had to write, a personal interview, public speaking, the talent presentation and then the dance competition. Then all in between we have moments to grow our friendship among us 24 women, where life long friendships will be formed, inspiration will grow, motivation will manifest and an inner evolution, a fire, will ignite in all of us.

Today we start a new day, finally reaching our destination of Albuquerque, New Mexico and then the chance to finally meet everyone and start our amazing experience will begin tomorrow evening! If you are interested in keeping up to date, please make sure to follow my facebook page here www.facebook.com/shanleymary! You can also livestream the public events online (this includes the talent presentations, the 1st day of the powwow with the dance competition and grand entry introductions and the last day of the powwow with the awards and crowing!). The livestream can be found here www.powwows.com. Perhaps leave me some comments below and I will be sure to respond as soon as I can!

I look forward to representing my swampy Cree/Nihithaw roots from Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in Pukatawagan, Manitoba. I also look forward to representing my Ojibway/Anishinaabe roots from Lake St. Martin First Nation, as well as my birthplace and home of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and to represent all of you who have been a part of my life. Elders, community members, family, friends, youth, mentors, teachers and those amazing souls who have guided mine in the most profound ways. I hope to continue to speak from the heart, follow my heart and to lead with light and love to best of my ability.

Kinanaskomitinawow, love you all.

  • Shan

What does Dancing Mean to You?

As a hoop dancer and fancy shawl dancer I often get the question, “What does dancing mean to you?” or “What is the meaning behind it?” and my answers usually vary. For myself personally, dancing is very special to me. I was taught that hoop dancing is a form of healing for oneself, for their friends and family and for the community as a whole. I was also taught that it was a form of storytelling and that each and every dancer is unique in this way, through telling their own stories. I love to dance because I dance for those things, it brings me joy to see children get excited or for crowds of people to be so engaged and enthralled by the shapes I create. It’s an amazing feeling to spread that happiness and educate everyone on a little piece of who I am and what our Indigenous culture strives for.

I have also been a teacher/mentor at two programs here in Winnipeg. One with the City of Winnipeg for inner city youth and the other for a group of young women with the Wii ChiiWaakanak Centre at the University of Winnipeg. After a couple of years of them dancing, I was curious to hear what it meant to them and how they felt as a dancer, so I decided to ask.

Some of their responses surprised me in a very good way.
Here is what they said.

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Are you a dancer as well? Showcase cultural talent? Dance ballet, jazz, hiphop, tap or any others? What does it mean to you and how do you feel when your out there showing your thang? I’m curious to know, let me know down below in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

Hoop Dance Portraits

During the spring of 2015 I had the privilege and wonderful opportunity to visit the Avenue Photography Studio in the east side of Winnipeg, Manitoba owned by the creative founder, Robert Dearden. We had the chance to collaborate together in order to capture some shots of dance and “indigenized” portraits. I was very grateful for the opportunity and impressed with the final copies.

Robert Dearden has always been a well known photographer in our community. He studied photography at Red River College and shoots a range of photography including studio portraiture, community and multicultural events, weddings, newborns and maternity,  powwows and many others. He attends these events here in Winnipeg and throughout the province with his camera and gear in hand making sure to capture the right moments. He also appreciates the art of photography and honours the importance of quality and value. His work can be found on his Facebook page by clicking HERE or his personal website at www.robertdeardenphotography.com

Below I have posted some of my favourite’s from the shoot but there is lots more of where they came from so if you would like to see more just suggest it down in the comments and I may just post a part two. I also strongly recommend checking out Robert’s work and supporting his local business. I hope you enjoy the images as much as I do. I am also taking bookings for the remainder of 2015 and into 2016 so if you would like my services as a hoop dancer, fancy shawl dancer or speaker you can contact me by filling out a contact form below. I would love to hear from you!

kinanâskomitin / Thank You.

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What Does National Aboriginal Day Mean To You?

Every year on June 21st, National Aboriginal Day is celebrated in Canada. Now, I always tend to get completely cliche and exclaim that every day is “Aboriginal Day” for us as Indigenous people across North America because we live our realities, our cultures and celebrate our “Indigenousness” every day.

As for me, this year feels different. I’m in deep reflective mode lately (classic over-thinking Shan) about our growth as Indigenous people. I feel as though all Canadians have been embarking on a journey which includes but is not limited to:

  • The increased awareness of the 1,200+ cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls because of public marches, protests, dances and ceremonies. Because of the outcries from brave family members, the push for a national inquiry and for more support from our police force and the government. Because of the raised awareness that these mothers, sisters, aunts and daughters are being taken far too young and do not belong bound and found in our rivers. They are loved, remembered and respected and didn’t deserve the treatment they faced.

 

  • There is also an increased awareness about the residential school system era including the genocide of countless Indigenous children and the attempt to diminish our Indigenous cultures. So much has happened since the last school closed in 1997; formal apologies, investigations, healing circles and the told truth from various survivors and students who attended. There is also the increased understanding of the inter-generational effects that still effect our families and communities to this day.

 

  • The 60’s scoop has also been acknowledged. The stories of how many Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in Non-Indigenous homes where many were faced with physical, emotional and sexual abuse and many never saw their families again.  There was also a formal apology from the Manitoba federal government to those children and their families.

There is a major shift in our Indigenous and Non-Indigenous communities toward reconciliation right now through these acts. Through raised awareness and education on our painful reality in Canada and the past issues that still haunt our communities to this day. There is action being done such as the implementation of Indigenous classes and the history being taught in our education systems, the invitations of our traditions into schools and events across the nation.

I also feel as though despite everything, our Indigenous communities are stronger than ever. We are reclaiming who we are as Indigenous people. We are relearning our traditions, our teachings, our languages and becoming increasingly proud in our identities. On top of that, all of us across North America and past those border lines are in a major time of healing and shifting. We are starting to discuss and become more aware of what had happened. We are educating and engaging all Canadians and communities across the globe of our rich history and our progressive ways forward. I am also seeing much interest from Non-Indigenous individuals to truly learn and help in any way that they can to work toward reconciliation . We are all making positive baby steps forward but we must keep going. We have much more work to do, much more healing to bring to our communities, our families and ourselves. We need to work on these new found relationships between all of us, we need to encourage our systems and our nations to take this journey with us. We need to re-establish trust and protect our children, our women and our communities.

This time of shifting is exciting and encouraging to witness. To see the healing taking place, to be a part of educating Canadians about our culture and our traditions through performing at different schools, events and gatherings across turtle island and internationally. I just hope this momentum doesn’t stop. I hope we continue to move forward. I hope that one day my children will see a world where our Indigenous women and men are protected and can feel safe in their own homes, that every community has clean running water, that they can continue to swim and witness the beauty of our lakes and oceans without the fear of polluted waters. I hope my children will see a strong nation and feel proud in who they are. I hope they will feel support from their leadership and governments.  I hope for a future where all Canadians are aware and truly equal. That’s all we can rely on is that hope. We must begin with ourselves which will then reach our families, our friends, then our communities and then hopefully across the nation.

Like I said, much work still needs to be done and I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks this. I hope this wasn’t too long of a rant but this has been on my mind for awhile. What does this particular day known as “National Aboriginal Day” mean to you? What does it mean to be a Canadian? I would love to hear from you! I also asked this question across my social media and here are some of the answers I recieved.

“Happy to those who join us to celebrate our heritage through good faith and a reminder of what our people have over came and we are still here as a sovereign nation no matter what tribe we come from nation to nation we are all related.” 

“Being proud in who we are. Celebrate our heritage.”

“Free Bannock.” 

“Showing pride that the government actually recognized us for one day!”

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24 Hours In Dryden Ontario

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7:00 AM up bright and early, essential Tim Hortons coffee stop and then we were ready for the approximate 4 hour road trip down to the small town of Dryden, Ontario, Canada.

24 hours later my travelling partner (a.k.a my wonderful mother) and I were heading home with great vibes, stories to tell, new connections, people we had met and a collection of significant photographs to reminisce over our wonderful 24 hour getaway.

My mother and I were invited to Dryden to participate in their annual honouring youth powwow at their local high school. It was very lovely to see so many youth, young women and the whole school up and dancing during intertribal’s along with their teachers.

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ShorIMG_7634tly after the regular powwow protocols of the grand entry, flag song, veteran song, prayer, intertribal and honour songs it was time for my mother and I to showcase our dances. The MC handed me the mic and I proceeded to introduce myself and share my teachings of the Indigenous traditional hoop dance. I then began to dance to the sound of the drum, making sure to use up as much space as I could, to practice some new formations and moves I had been eager to try in front of an audience and to try my best to keep the room engaged with my performance. When I was finished I was greeted with a large applause.

Then it was my IMG_7636mother’s turn. They proceeded to drum a song for her as the young women were asked to watch because they would be trying after. My mother looked beautiful as she kept in time with the beat, her golden jingles creating that comforting familiar sound and her feathered fan raised high in the air at every check beat. After, as promised, the young women came up to dance alongside of her. They all had such enthusiasm in their eyes and watched my mother closely again as they tried to mimic her fancy contemporary jingle dress style foot work.

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IMG_7653The powwow had been held annually for over 20 years and the man who had started it all was still teaching and hosting the powwow at the school. His name was Leonard Skye. He was a gentle, loving and incredibly respected man in the community and was honoured while we there for his years of dedication to the school, the youth and his community.

He will be retiring this year so they held a special honour song for him, as students came up giving him hugs and words of thanks. They then proceeded to honour him with awards such as the prestigious one shown in the photograph which was to be hung in the city hall. He is originally from Eagle Lake, 15 minutes west of Dryden and was a residential school survivor. He spoke with so much passion and pride and you could feel the love and respect everyone had for him.

The next day after the powwow, we decided to take a detour before heading home to check out the round dance that Eagle Lake was hosting to honour the missing and murdered Indigenous women. It was a gorgeous warm day with a slight breeze and when we arrived they had hung symbolic red dresses throughout the community to signify those they had lost and to honour them as they are still loved, valued and remembered. After a beautiful round dance of women, men, youth, elders and the whole Eagle Lake community, everyone was given a pouch of tobacco to offer to one of the sacred fires that were set up in each sacred direction. Everyone then proceeded to walk down the road to choose a specific sacred fire to offer their tobacco.

I was so glad that we were able to come and witness such a resilient and strong community and to partake in the round dance and offering of tobacco. After that we had to hit the highway to make it back to city but we made sure to make some time to pull over and create an inukshuk along the way since the highway between Winnipeg and Dryden are full of them and we had always wished to do  that one day and then we had the chance!

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Overall it was a very nice 24 hour trip and I was incredibly appreciative and thankful for our invite to their community to dance. I hope to continue to travel to a variety of communities to showcase my dancing and share the teachings I was given.

Thank you for reading if you’ve made it this far. Please feel free to like, share or comment below. If there is anything I discussed in this post that you would like an extended explanation/post on let me know and I can definitely do that! Also feel free to leave any other suggestions of future posts you may like to see. Please stay tuned and subscribe to this blog to keep updated with my adventures. I hope to start posting one every week or to get on some sort of blogging schedule.

Take care everyone.

● Little Grand Rapids, Manitoba ●

IMG_7549Myself and a crew of dancers from Winnipeg made our way north east to the small community of Little Grand Rapids. We made our way through long winding snowy highways, never ending rough winter roads, drove across the ice roads which was my first time anxiety prone experience and had a couple vehicles end up in the ditch. But alas, we had made our way there all in one piece.

For all of us women, they let us crash in their community lodge which was a very comfortable facility with our own beds and just enough space for everything. We were very grateful and appreciative of their hospitality, kindness and welcoming during our visit. Then it was time to powwow!

The powwow took place in the gym of the local Abbalak Thunderswift Memorial School. There was three drum groups which included the community drum, a visiting drum from Saskatchewan and one from Winnipeg. There was also three craft tables and a good amount of dancers which made for a nice little powwow. It went on for two days and they fed us very good with three hearty meals a day and snacks in between. The entire community was very friendly and always smiling and I believe all of us winnipegger’s felt very welcomed.

I was also asked by the school to come back and do hoop dance/powwow dancing workshops with the youth which I hope will pull through because that would be simply awesome and overall it was very good trip to this friendly little community and to experience and dance our hearts out at their powwow. I now look forward to the powwow trail this summer and to possibly come back to their powwow next year! I have selected some very special snapshots from the weekend and coupled it with its own description underneath, enjoy!

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As we all pulled over on the highway for a driving break, one of the vehicles hit a patch of ice and slid into the deep ditch of snow. The situation ended up with a chain attached to the truck behind and as that truck pulled the entire family of that vehicle pushed. It ended up with it coming out of the ditch but with a smoking hood due to an unattached belt and excessive pressing on the gas. Besides the delay in our commute it all ended well and we got there safely.
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Relaxing in the “Thunderbird” Lodge after our 5-6 hour drive. Photographed here is my grandmother Lucy.
Some of the dancers from Winnipeg and some of the community member of Little Grand Rapids all dancing together during an honor song.
Some of the dancers from Winnipeg and some of the community members of Little Grand Rapids all dancing together during an honor song.
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Abbalak Thunderswift Memorial School gym.

 

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I was handed tobacco and asked to speak to everyone a little about myself as a dancer and to share the background and teachings I was given about the traditional hoop dance.
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Tracy (Left), she was the one who had asked all of us dancers to come on out and support the powwow in Little Grand Rapids and my grandmother (Right) who had also came down for the visit. They were very proud about their hats :p
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Lorne Stevenson, a traditional dancer from Winnipeg who dances at almost every powwow and has performed at the DOTC First Nation’s pavilion during Folklorama.
Gayle Pruden, a very respected and beautiful jingle dress dancer from Winnipeg
Gayle Pruden, a very respected and beautiful jingle dress dancer from Winnipeg
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Lucy, My beautiful grandmother who dances the jingle dress style.
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This young woman inspired me immensely and proved to me that anything is possible if you have a passion for it and set your mind to it. She had hand sewn her entire gorgeous outfit all on her own. No sewing machines or fancy equipment. Something very admirable and to be proud of.
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This little adorable lady won our hearts. Her name was Lavina and she had shown quite an interest in our dancing. When we asked if she would like to come dance with us during intertribal her eyes lit up and she jumped up almost immediately. I showed her some fancy shawl steps and we danced around the gym. One of the nearby craft tables saw this and gifted her with her very own shawl. She was beyond excited and couldn’t stop dancing. She would mirror everything I would do including folding it nicely and putting on the back of her chair during breaks. I told her to take very good care of it and encouraged her to keep dancing and to keep practicing and that we would come back next year. During retreat I also gave her the chance to dance out with one of my hoops. I really hope we made a difference in her day and I hope she keeps it up and realizes how special and beautiful she was to all of us 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phoenix, Arizona & The Grand Canyon!

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Back in February 2015, my mom and I decided to pack our things and head down south to Phoenix, Arizona to participate and dance for the first time in the world hoop dance contest at the Heard Museum. It’s an annual event where hoop dancers from all over turtle island gather to mingle, dance their hearts out and represent their home communities. Ever since I had started hoop dancing I had only seen videos of the event on Youtube and I admired the unique intricate routines from established dancers from around the world. The idea of participating in the event myself seemed like such a far fetched dream, so when the opportunity presented itself I was more than thrilled to partake.

3:30 AM Friday morning, we made our way to the airport.
After a long day of travel, we finally arrived in the beautiful sunny Arizona. I was beyond excited to bath in the sunlight and enjoy the high temperatures of the desert landscape. We rented a car and made our way through the winding freeways to find our hotel. We kept seeing various road signs along the way such as Los Angeles and the thought of how easy it would have been to take a drive down to these other various cities excited us. We definitely put that our list of things to do for next year!

IMG_7402The next day began bright and early as we made our way to the venue. Before the day of hoop dancing began, they held a meeting to discuss the rules and answer any questions that the dancers may have had. Then it was time to get ready for grand entry! I was beyond excited at this point, marveling among the hoop dancers I’ve looked up to and only seen in videos. Everyone dressing into their different vibrant beautiful regalia and everyone was buzzing with energy.

Then grand entry began with over 75 hoop dancers both men and women, children to senior, from all across the world dancing together. This is where it all hit me. I was in that moment and felt a strong sense of belonging, like that was where I was meant to be. That overwhelming feeling embodied my whole being, a feeling of pride and happiness. I couldn’t believe I was there, dancing along side with my fellow mentors, those who had inspired me to keep on hoop dancing, those who had such an influence on my life. We were all there in the Arizonian sunlight, dancing  to that sound of the drum that I’ve known all my life. It was truly an amazing experience.

IMG_7406IMG_7416IMG_7418The day continued as they showcased each dancer beginning with the tiny tots then into the youth  and teen divisions. Then they showcased the senior division and then completed with the adult division. Each dancer was marvelous in their own way, dancing in various styles and introducing IMG_7426different hoop formations coupled with their fancy footwork. Throughout the day, all of us dancers mingled and met with each other and talked with the spectators of the crowd. Everyone was so warm and friendly and a mutual acceptance and respect was felt from everyoneIMG_7442. Then it was my turn to dance.

As I waited for my turn, the nerves set in but I kept reminding myself that it was just like any other showcase I’ve done, to just go out there and dance my hardest and even though it may not be the best…the experience would be worth it all. Some fellow hoop dancers came by and gave me some last minute advice and that really helped calm my nerves. I spoke to the northern drum who would be singing for me before walking up to the center and placing my hoops in anticipation. The beat began, the timer started and all eyes were on me. I was full of energy and excitement mixed with nerves but I was more than ready. I danced my little heart out and danced the hardest I’ve ever done before in that center dusty pit under the blazing sun. It felt exhilarating.

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Out of 22 dancers in the adult division I was 15th on the score card and even though I didn’t place I was thankful and incredibly grateful for the experience and for meeting all of the other dancers. I definitely already started making plans for next year, I’m just getting started and it feels amazing. Also a huge thank you shout out must go out to my mother for making it all happen and for supporting me all throughout, without her I wouldn’t have made it there and I am so incredibly grateful and appreciative of everything she had done.

The second part of our trip we took a drive up to the Grand Canyon and the pictures can speak for themselves . . .

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Overall, It was a truly breathtaking trip and instilled a deeper pride into who I have become and who I am as a young indigenous woman. It was beautiful to escape the Winterpeg winter and bath in the warmer southern temperatures and to witness the grand landscapes of Arizona. The trip up to the Grand Canyon and experiencing such a breathtaking view of one of the world’s natural wonders really put into perspective just how beautiful our world can be. I already cannot wait for next year and I look forward to continuing this journey of hoop dancing, travelling and experiencing all this world has to offer.  
Thank you for reading 🙂