Through the language we can bring healing to our people.

 

Through the Language we can bring healing to our people.

Tansi/Kwe,

As a First Nation, Inuit, and/or Metis individual, what priorities would you bring to the forefront of Turtle Island in order to bring healing, renewed relationships, positive action and revitalization of our diverse cultures?

This question was at the heart, spirit and intent of over 26 First Nations, Inuit and Metis Nations as I travelled Far East to “Unama’ki – Land of the Fog” and “People of the Dawn” in Membertou First Nation, Nova Scotia. Knowledge keepers, youth, elders, women, men, two spirited and all sovereign passionate souls gathered here on Mi’kmaq territory to collaborate, discuss, network, share stories and record ideas toward this question and plausible solutions.

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Jeff Ward (a member of Membertou First Nation) confidently stated that, “through the language we can bring healing to our people.” I have heard this time and time again from elders back home on the plains as well. That our languages and cultures go hand in hand and that it’s vital to keep our languages alive in order to also keep our cultures alive.

Jeff Ward also mentioned that, “We have a gift of Indigenous language, we need to think about that and honour that. Think of this gathering here in the east as a new beginning”.

A woman from the Native Women’s Association of Canada proclaimed that “Indigenous women are keepers of the language” and that only 5% of First Nation children learn an Indigenous language.

Many of these knowledge keepers, with passion in their words, their eyes pleading and searching for change, their hearts pouring out to a sea of Indigeniety sparked a flame inside my being. It had always been there but had not been inflamed to that capacity.

Being a young Nihithaw and Anishinaabe woman, who was born and raised in the urban inner city, far from any Indigenous language other than the “official” colonial construct of English and French. I am now learning so much more about the loss of our culture and languages and how its such an incredibly important time right now to strengthen our heritage, revitalize and reclaim who we are as Indigenous, First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples. I must return back to my roots, visit and learn from the source, from my Cree (Nihithaw) territory in Northern Manitoba. I must return back and fully immerse myself in the language in order to fully become fluent.

Some nations have only a few fluent speakers of the language left and most of them are beginning to approach their final years in this physical realm. This is very painful to hear and ignites my spirit to want to create concrete action in order to reverse this. To create new generations of speakers.

Some tips to achieve this include:

  1. Record and document elders
  2. Teach children in public school system
  3. Begin immersion with on-reserve schools
  4. Create new generation of adult speakers committing to 2000 hours of meaningful exposure to the language.
  5. Language camps
  6. Elder socials
  7. utilization of media (TV, movies, cartoons, books, social media, etc.)

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With that, us as Indigenous, First Nations, Inuit, Metis peoples need to ask ourselves how bad do we want it? What are the commitments we are willing to make right now in this moment? What sacrifices do we want to make for our languages and culture? We need to feed the passion. We need to accept our role, its all within us.

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A group of passionate youth rose up and spoke out. They exclaimed straight from spirit that “before asking the people for their hand, we must ask for their heart”. They also said that language revitalization is about healing, reconciliation and belonging. We need to ask what re-learning our languages would mean for those “lost generations” to the residential school survivors. To bring life back to their beings and spirits. We must infiltrate and enforce our leadership, lead by example, use language whenever we can, adopt traditional roles and have hands on learning.

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Its time for us to come together and collectively heal. I believe in us.

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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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 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indigenous Hoop Dance

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Hey Everyone! First of all, I would like to apologize for my absence from this blog. Classes have started, I’ve already caught the “change of the season” cold, I’ve been super busy and I had an extreme case of writer’s block and couldn’t think of anything to write.

However, I thought I would discuss the Indigenous Hoop Dance for you all since I think many of you don’t fully understand the reasoning for why I do what I do or what it is that I do. Let me give you some insight into my world…

I was introduced to the hoop dance at 13 and have continued to practice and grow with it over 7 years now. The teachings I was given was that it was used for storytelling, guidance/direction and healing. People would come to this individual if they were seeking guidance and/or healing in their lives and once this individual would dance it would show them the answers they were looking for in order to move forward in positive ways. It was also used for storytelling in the way the hoops intertwine and move to create images and dancing designs of many different things such as animals, things of nature, humans, etc. The hoop dance also symbolizes the importance of keeping a healthy balance in life including the 4 important areas of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual and understanding the negatives and positives that come with it. I was also told that the hoop dance could symbolize deeper meanings such as the circle of life it’s self. Most hoop dancers will have the four directions on their hoops which represents that medicine wheel and journey we take in life beginning as a newborn, throughout childhood, young adult, as an elder and then beginning that circle once again.

These are quite similar to the reasons why I dance and what I keep in mind while dancing. I dance for that healing, not only for myself but for my community and all Indigenous people. We have faced the residential school system, oppression, complications within child and family services, suicide rates among our youth and many more experiences that have led to inter-generational effects and hurting within our communities. One of the main things we are still facing is the 1181+ missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. I dance for them, their families and their communities. I also dance for the showcasing of positive cultural pride, to break down those stereotypes and not only show the beauty of our heritage but also educate those who are willing to watch about the history and culture of Indigenous people in Canada.

I also dance for the youth, to stand up and dance along side of them for sustainable futures and the next generation. I want to inspire the younger ones that they can do anything they set their minds too and that just because you are an Indigenous person does not make you anything less even though negative connotations can in some ways unfortunately make them feel that way. Also, the fact that I am a woman and can hoop dance also gives a sense of that empowerment because of the fact that so many are used to seeing primarily males hoop dancing. It’s something new, exciting and different and I believe that this empowerment is also felt by the younger girls that I teach. I was incredibly happy and looked up to many other women I saw hoop dancing growing up such as Lisa Odjig.  On top of everything and what ties all of that together is the entertainment aspect of why I dance. To make myself and others happy through that storytelling concept and some fancy moves hidden in between. I enjoy the process through learning and watching other hoop dancers and I hope to continue to do this for a long time. I will also be travelling to the world championships in Arizona next year so you can anticipate a blog post about my experience there along with some photographs!

Thank you so much for reading, if you have gotten this far! I will be posting a lot more often, so stay tuned!