Hundreds of First Nation dancers, singers and drummers are gathering for the 2022 Mawita’jik Competition Pow Wow held on Mi’kma’ki in Nova Scotia.
Mawita’jik, meaning ‘let us gather’ in Mi’kmaw, brought performers from about 15 nations, from as far as North Dakota.
The competition kicked off at noon on Saturday with the grand entry where all nations and dancers were introduced.
Garrett Gloade of Millbrook First Nation, the competition coordinator, says powwows are “a way for our people to gather and celebrate for who we are as Indigenous people.”
Gloade said, “That grand entry was something that was done very negatively back in the day. People would parade our people down the streets in the old saloon towns. With our people, anything that’s negative we turn it into a positive.”
“Where you bring all the colours together, and they all dance together simultaneously in one mind, one body, one spirit. That drum that comes in and brings us in, that’s a symbol of mother earth, and when we sing our voices carry upward to the creator,” he said. “Whether it’s our own personal need, or prayer or what have you, we all have our reason.”
Traditional Indigenous dances were banned in Canada beginning between the 1850s and 1951.
Patricia Saulis of Tobique First Nation, a traditional dancer, said that’s why she loves it so much.
“I love taking part in our culture,” Saulis said. “I want to honour that spirit of dance so me and my children, my grown children, now all take in the pow wow and we love to dance”
She practices a woman’s traditional dance.
“Basically it’s meant to represent the grace, and the grass actually, the sweet grass of Mother Earth.”
Saulis said the competition pow wow is important to her. “This is one of the few times we get to publicly and actively participate in our culture, in a positive way.”
Like the dances, each individual’s regalia tells a story.
Dance competitor Bert Milberg, originally from Saulteaux First Nation but living in N.S. since the 1990s, wore his traditional colours for the pow wow.
“For me, it’s a welcoming back to culture,” he said.
Milberg is a Sixties Scoop survivor. He was taken from his family and adopted when he was 11.
He said about 35 years ago he came back to his culture. But even before then, he was drawn to these colours.
“There was something about these colours that meant something to me and I didn’t know what they meant within our culture,” Milberg said. “You never complete your regalia, you’re always adding or replacing and repairing. You’re storytelling, it represents who you are.”
Ashley Julian-Rikihana wore regalia that passed down by her Mi’kmaw grandmother.
“The peak hat represents being female. A lot of young ladies get them when they come of age, and so it’s an honour to wear these,” Julian-Rikihana said.
She’s a Kouja dancer, a tradition in Mi’kma’ki. It’s “almost like a little shuffle,” said Julian-Rikihana.
“You see arms swinging and feet kind of moving along, either kind of like you’re squishing a bug or you’re wiping something off the bottom of your foot…The footwork is very differentiated by how you’ve been taught by your family or your clan.”
While there are differences in songs, dances, and regalia, the feelings are shared.
“When you hear the beat of the drum, it’s the heartbeat of Mother Earth, said Debbie Eisan, a resident Elder at the Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre.
“When that drum beat sounds, it brings our people together and it gives us a sense of pride — and a sense of tradition.”