By Barb Nahwegahbow
MISSISSAUGA – Two of the finest artists from Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve were featured on June 6 at The Gathering in Mississauga, a family day organized by Peel Aboriginal Network (PAN). Two-time World Champion Hoop Dancer Lisa Odjig and painter Jay Bell Redbird were on hand to display their talents.
About 150 people sat in anticipation as they watched Lisa Odjig come out in her red dance regalia and lay out her hoops. Confident and composed, she talked about the Hoop Dance and her uncle Gordie Odjig who taught her when she was in high school. At the time, Gordie Odjig was a fixture on the Pow Wow circuit as a Fancy Dancer.
Her first lesson, Odjig said, took place in the empty Wikwemikong Band Office. It was a cold winter Saturday night, “the kind of night when you don’t want to go outside and there’s lots of snow and its really, really cold”, she said. She was curled up on the couch watching movies when her uncle arrived to pick her up.
“It was one of the best and the most memorable nights of my life,” Odjig said. From the outset, she had a connection with the hoops and the rest is history. In Phoenix, Arizona in 2000, she became the first woman to ever win the world championship. She won it again in 2003.
“The Hoop Dance, it’s a gift, symbolic of the circle of life,” Odjig told the audience, “I’ve been blessed.”
Odjig didn’t disappoint the crowd when she danced and skillfully maneuvered 17 hoops, all without missing a step. At the end of her performance, several little ones stepped up when she offered to teach them some of the basics.
People were also treated to a show and sale of exquisite paintings by Jay Bell Redbird. He was kept busy throughout the day explaining the symbolism in his work as well as making a sale or two.
“I like to support the work PAN is doing,” said Redbird. When he’s not doing shows, he encourages up-and-coming young artists. He was fortunate to have some great teachers and mentors, among them his father Duke Redbird, Norval Morrisseau and his uncle Leland Bell.
“My Uncle Leland, he’s been very influential in my life,” said Redbird. “Growing up around him and just looking at his artwork. When I was little, he’d paint pictures on my bedroom wall. He’d give me gifts of paper and coloured pencils and he helped me a lot.”
The Gathering was hosted by PAN as a kickoff to Aboriginal History Month, said PAN’s Assistant Director, Solange Losier. Staff and volunteers were kept busy throughout the day painting faces and barbecuing hot dogs.
PAN is the latest member to join the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres. The 2011 Census identified over 12,000 people of Aboriginal ancestry in Peel Region. Of this number, just a little over 4,000 identified themselves as First Nation. PAN provides cultural programs as well as legal and social services.