For the last six weekends, the Facebook group Social Distance Powwow has been live-streaming with Indigenous performers from around North America in an effort to bring powwows into everyone’s homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whitney Rencountre, from Rapid City, S.D., is one of three founders of the page. He says the streams take a lot of effort and planning, but it’s worth it.
“In order to have a powwow, you need to gather, you need to bring people together.”
Powwows are celebrations that showcase dancers, singers, music, regalia and crafts.
According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, “the origin of the term powwow can be traced to the Algonquin, who used the Narrangansett words pau wau to describe a medicine man, shaman or a gathering of spiritual leaders in a healing ceremony.”
Modern-day powwows often include a competition aspect and welcome thousands of spectators from across North America. Around 3,000 people attended the annual International Peace Powwow at Lethbridge ENMAX centre in February.
However, most events are held in the spring and summer, which isn’t possible this year due to COVID-19.
The idea to start the page came after seeing how vendors and others typically involved in the massive gatherings were struggling amid the cancellations. Since the page started, it has amassed over 171,000 members and counting.
“There’s people from all over the world that are watching,” said Rencountre. “We could enlist the help of probably a couple hundred people.”
Experienced guest MC at Saturday’s Blackfoot Confederacy edition of the live-streamed event Tony Delaney says it’s important to continue connecting with each other in whatever ways possible.
He says the experience was an honor.
“Everyone’s just adjusting,” he said. “After this all ends, I want to give even more of an effort, try even harder to keep people entertained.”
Saturday’s live stream welcomed hundreds of viewers and featured the talents of the Blackfoot Confederacy — which includes the Siksika, Kainai and Piikani Nations.
Performers of all ages who took to their living rooms or backyards included Herman Yellow Old Woman, Miss Blackfoot Canada Kyreese Mountian Horse, Blackfoot Confederacy and Dancers, Alex Scalplock and Dancers, Hoop Dancer Arik Pipestem, Jay Dusty Bull and Dancers, and Bullhorn Singers.
In a previously streamed powwow, one performer from New Mexico dedicated her set to her grandfather who had recently passed away from COVID-19.
Rencountre says the group would like to continue live streams for the foreseeable future until the pandemic passes and powwows can resume as normal, but the page itself will stay active.
‘We’re going to continue to use this platform to educate people around the world about Indigenous song, dance, language, culture, all of the things that I think we’ve never really had the opportunity to create a platform such as this.”
The page is public and open for anyone to join.