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Powwow is ‘medicine’ coming out of a pandemic

An inclusive powwow filled out the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek traditional grounds during the weekend, with hundreds of people gathering to cheer on dancers from far and wide, who came back together in a way they have been unable to throughout the pandemic

In a scene very much missing from the past couple of years, hundreds of people gathered at Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation for the 35th Annual Jiingtamok during the weekend.

“After COVID, it’s nice to get out again and see the people, so we’re celebrating that,” dancer Ned Benson told Sudbury.com between songs at the powwow, at which all were welcome.

“If a good tune comes on, I’m abandoning you,” he said with a chuckle. “If the singers provide a good song and they’re feeling into that song, us as dancers interpret that.”

Benson came from his home community of Sebright, near Orillia, to attend the local powwow, and as one of many dancers and visitors to travel from throughout the province to participate.

The inclusive nature of the festivities was highlighted by this year’s theme, “Coming Together Again,” and further established through the inclusion of a Pride flag for the first time. Its presence was cheered on loudly during the powwow’s grand entry on Saturday.

At the side of the powwow circle on Saturday, Dmitri Ashawasegai sat to alter his children's regalia. Like hockey gear, he said it needs continual adjustments as children grow.

Leading up to the weekend's festivities, he said there has been a lot of excitement in the community.

“It’s a celebration of life, and it’s not by any means like an intense ceremony like others we have in our culture, but an awesome way to get together and see people’s personal expressions, especially after having endured a pandemic and all of the isolation.”

Powwow offers a unique opportunity for expression, he said, with every dancer’s regalia custom made to best represent the character of its owner. 

Ashawasegai’s nine-year-old son, Wakiya, wears lightning bolts on his regalia to represent his name, which is thunder in Dakota. 

“The art that he wears has to do with who he is,” Ashawasegai said. “It shows who he is as part of his name built into the art that he wears as he dances.”

While assembling his own children’s regalia, Frazer Whiteduck, of Sheguiandah on Manitoulin Island, said everything is “made with love.”

“Sometimes you pick up things from trade or on the powwow trail, but a lot of the time it’s handmade itself, and it’s made for the ones that wear it,” he said. 

“It fits with you when you dance and move, it will feel like you’re not wearing anything at times.”

Whiteduck’s regalia is suited to a men’s chicken-style of powwow dance and his spirit name, which he keeps to himself for personal reasons. 

In addition to his own regalia, Whiteduck is also responsible for what his three children, Nodin, Niibii and Loz wore to the powwow, whose special garments he helped assemble.

“It’s raising the next generation,” he said. “It means a lot because it’s a lot of medicine, it’s somewhere to go instead of being involved in drugs and alcohol, so it’s something for them to fall back on. … It’s nice to come to a community like this and be celebrating and everything like that.”

Itching to get back on the powwow circle, Benson shared a couple insights regarding his own regalia, which includes a medallion featuring The Rolling Stones’ logo.

“Your outfit, your regalia, it resembles who you are, it shows who you are,” he said, adding that The Rolling Stones’ frontman, Mick Jagger, dancing on stage at his age serves as inspiration that he can continue with powwow. 

The balance of his regalia includes a symbol representing luck given to him by a loved one and components put together by his grandchildren. Of the ensemble altogether, he said, “It’s love.”

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.