The annual Kahnawake Pow Wow is taking place this weekend.
It’s a vibrant showcase of Indigenous culture that invites people from all walks of life to the reservation just south of Montreal.
“It’s wonderful. To me, this is the highlight of the year,” said prominent Kahnawake community member Joe Delaronde. “We have a lot of great things, but this is number one for me, just a joyful experience.”
Dancers in full regalia give their best performances, competing for glory and cash prizes in front of an amazed audience.
“The dancing and the music and the drums and the smells, they free my spirit,” said attendee Kathy Forster, who said she is part Mi’kmaq. “I know this is going to sound corny, but it makes me feel one with the earth and mother nature.”
First and foremost, the Pow Wow is a celebration and a showcase of indigenous culture. Forster brought her non-Indigenous friend Monique Carriere in order to show off her culture to her.
“I need to be proud of who I am, and I need my friends to understand what our culture has gone through,” Forster said. “The music, the movement, the colours, the sounds, it’s wonderful,” said Carriere.
Delaronde called the event a great opportunity for non-native people to experience what Kahnawake and the culture are all about.
The dancers move to beats delivered by talented drummers and singers from Kahnawake and well beyond. One troupe came all the way from Arizona, which Delaronde said was the farthest he could ever remember a group traveling to attend the Pow Wow.
“It’s a way of helping keep our culture in our alive,” said Celina Cada-Matasawagon, a dancer from the Zhiibaahaasing first nation on Manitoulin Island. “It’s just a way for our young people to find something to be proud of, and that’s our culture.”
Although music, dancing and food took centre stage on day one, the scorching heat complicated things for participants and attendees.
Dancing had to be paused at certain moments as some people in the audience succumbed to the heat. Medical teams needed to step in to treat heat-related situations at least seven times. Organizers continually made announcements recommending people stay hydrated and seek shade. One announcement referred to the situation as a “crisis.”
“You’ve just got to take breaths. The most important thing is to be drinking water,” Cada-Matasawagon said of the intense challenge of dancing in full regalia in the heat.
The secondary star of the show is the unique food items on offer.
At the first post-COVID Pow Wow last year, the event had record attendance of 16,000 on the Saturday.
They’re expecting this year’s number to be very close to that. The event continues on Sunday.