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Halifax celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day with two-day Mawita’jik Powwow

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Friday marked National Indigenous Peoples Day. It's a day to celebrate the diverse cultures and histories of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people across Canada. As Elizabeth McSheffrey reports, Nova Scotia marked the occasion with a two-day competition pow-wow – Jun 21, 2019

Three grand entries, drum roll calls, a round dance and dozens of talented Indigenous artists.

That’s what you can expect at the two-day Mawita’jik Competition Powwow at the Zatzman Sportsplex in Dartmouth on Friday and Saturday, held in honour of National Indigenous Peoples Day.

The extravaganza is hosted by the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, and named after the Mi’kmaq words for “let us gather.”

READ MORE: Sunshine and Londoners gather on the Green for Indigenous Solidarity Day

This is the first year the event has been held indoors, and despite the rain, spirits were high as setup took place on Friday afternoon.

“We just like to come together and share our culture and meet other nations,” said Melissa Edwards of RavenWolf Handmade Native Crafts.

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“This is our first time at this large of a venue, so we’re hoping for a big crowd to take in all the dancing and competition.”

READ MORE: 5 things to know about National Indigenous Peoples Day

The first drum roll call and grand entry will take place at 6:45 p.m. on Friday in the Sportsplex arena, with exhibition and inter-tribal dances throughout the night.

The teen singing competition will take place at 8:10 p.m. and the festivities will wrap up at 9:15 p.m.

Vendor booths will be open on Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m., with various musical performances and dances for all ages scheduled throughout the day. The contest wraps up at 6:45 p.m. with a round dance, and winners will be announced at 7:30 p.m. The ceremonies conclude with a victory song at 8 p.m.

WATCH: Sunrise ceremony kicks off National Indigenous Peoples Day

National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrates the diversity of First Nations, Métis and Inuit cultures, and their contributions from coast to coast to coast. The way it’s been celebrated over the years has changed with greater acceptance from Canadians, but Mi’kmaw leaders say the message remains the same.

Patricia Doyle-Bedwell, a professor of native studies at Dalhousie University, said it’s a good day to remember that were it not for the support of many Indigenous peoples across Canada, whole colonies of settlers would not have survived Canada’s harsh conditions.

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She also pointed to traditional medicines, snowshoes and canoes as other valuable contributions from Indigenous peoples.

“I think it’s about raising the awareness of the Canadian public and raising awareness of our histories,” she explained. “And I think we’re still on that road. But having a day to celebrate that I think is really awesome.”

“Like I feel so proud of who I am as a Mi’kmaw woman, I feel so proud of what we’ve accomplished.”

Dalhousie Native Studies instructor Patricia Doyle-Bedwell speaks about the significance of National Indigenous Peoples Day from her Halifax office on June 21, 2019. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News

READ MORE: Three Atlantic universities get $1.2M to ‘Indigenize’ their campuses

Chief Morley Googoo of the Assembly of First Nations, said he takes the expansion of this year’s powwow as a positive sign that interest in Mi’kmaw culture in Halifax is growing, although more work needs to be done on education.

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“The government and the systems have misinformed who the Indigenous people are,” he told Global News.

“So it’s important for us to celebrate out culture and our traditions in a way we can all be proud of. And everybody really wants to know what’s going on in our culture, so this gives us an opportunity to do that.”

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