Kirby Shipman "came out" as a men's traditional dancer at Nipissing First Nation's 28th annual pow-wow the day after he graduated from Nbisiing Seconday School.

Kirby Shipman “came out” as a men’s traditional dancer at Nipissing First Nation’s 28th annual pow-wow the day after he graduated from Nbisiing Seconday School.

By Maurice Switzer

NIPISSING FIRST NATION – Kirby Shipman graduated from high school the day before he “came out” as a men’s traditional dancer at Nipissing First Nation’s 28th annual Labour Day weekend pow-wow.

The 24-year-old decided to return to school and his Ojibway heritage for the same reason.

“I wanted a job, and you don’t get a job by doing nothing all day.”

Shipman is hopeful that his diploma from Nbisiing Secondary School is the first step towards a career as a friendship centre youth worker, or a drug and alcohol counsellor.

“I’m trying to get funding to go to college,” says Shipman, who left Walpole Island six years ago after a fire at his family home.

North Bay buddies Mckenzie Ottereyes Eagle and brother Tyler helped convince him to return to school. They also encouraged him to seek support in his culture.

“They made these for me,” Shipman gestures towards a dancer’s shield, decorated with Walpole Island’s Three Fires logo, and a realistic-looking hand-carved wooden rifle.

He made his men’s traditional outfit – including the feather bustle and horsehair “roach”, or headpiece – and actually made his pow-wow debut in regalia at Temagami on Aug. 10.

“It gives me a really good feeling,” Shipman says of his dancing, “not something you can get from drinking.”

His North Bay support system includes his two brothers who also moved from Walpole Island and “who I see almost every day.”

“They helped convince me to go back to school. I want a job and you don’t get that without education.”

Shipman sat in with one of nine drum groups under the arbour at Nipissing’s pow-wow, and was one of an estimated 100 dancers who showed up for the Sept. 3-4 gathering.

There was also no shortage of political leaders in attendance.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day, Nipissing Chief Scott McLeod,  Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota, and Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli attended Saturday’s grand entry.

“Perry spoke of the 150th anniversary of Canada being a celebration of our survival as Indigenous peoples, and that we are moving forward with strength and unity,” said pow-wow emcee Bob Goulais. “We’re not content with just being casual observers of confederation, but taking our rightful place in Canadian society – forging our own future.

During a sunrise ceremony, Chief McLeod was presented with a traditional Anishinaabe headdress modelled by artist Brenda Lee after one worn by his ancestor Chief Shabogesic during the 1850 Robinson Huron Treaty gathering.

Chief McLeod said passing on traditional headdresses was an important part of First Nations defining their own systems of governance – like the clan system — and building on the foundation of Anishinaabe Gchi Naaknigewen, creating community constitutions.