Two youth, Roger and Jorja, participating in the Potato Dance, during the 11th Annual Powwow at the University Community Centre at Western University.

By Shirley Honyust

LONDON—The atmosphere buzzed with excitement as this year’s First Nations Student Association (FNSA) Powwow unfolded at Mustang Lounge in the University Community Centre (UCC).

This social event was the culmination of Indigenous Awareness Week at Western, and sponsored by Western University (WU), University Students Council, Indigenous Services, in addition to the efforts of the FNSA Executive Committee and their diligent volunteers.

The powwow brought together the organizers, audience and participants to enjoy a fun-filled day of cultural enrichment, nourishing the body, mind, and spirit through songs and dances. Non-Indigenous onlookers and curiosity seekers were encouraged to join in the dances which were open to all, including the Intertribal, Round Dance, Potato Dance, and others.

Traditional crafts and food vendors shared the lobby of the UCC, some from Oneida, Munsee and Chippewa First Nations and some from as far away as Six Nations, near Brantford, Sarnia, and Walpole Island (near Wallaceburg).

Tyler White emceed the powwow, introducing speakers and performers, a responsibility he shared gladly with Joe “Paunchy” Plain and Lotunt Honyust. Plain delivered the opening invocation where he gave thanks for the day and asked for a blessing of the day’s events.

Charging Horse, the host drum from Peterborough, played an honour song for the 2017 graduate students and a birthday song for Paunchy’s sister, Diana, whose birthday fell on the same day as the powwow. When special songs are requested, the audience is invited to dance with the person or persons being honoured and to give handshakes and hugs to them.

Charging Horse Drum shared the drumming and singing for the event with three other drums:  Stobie Creek, from Sault Ste Marie; Brown Bear, from Oneida; and Little Creek, another local drum group whose members stem from London, Oneida, Munsee and Chippewa First Nations.

Head Dancers for the powwow included: Brandon Barberstock; Sabrina Muise; Roger and Laniya (two young protégés). They took the lead, following flag bearers and dignitaries in the Grand Entry, followed by Traditional Jingle Dress and Grass Dancers, all outfitted royally in hand stitched regalia.

Two dances highlighted the afternoon—the Smoke Dance, a fast-paced number, and a Potato Dance, where dancers partner up and dance while holding a raw potato between their foreheads. The emcee jokingly referred to this as “the dance that has been known to ruin relationships!”

Traditional and Competition powwows have different protocol. No admission is charged for a traditional powwow and usually a daily fee is charged at a competition powwow. The competition powwow offers cash prizes for best drummers, best dancers in each category. The FNSA offers their powwow with the best of both: free admission, competition dances with gift prizes and the prestige of winning, Indigenous craft vendors, Indigenous foods, and an open invitation to the next day’s Smoke Dance Competition at Oneida Community Centre (about 40 km southwest of London).

For additional information or to reach FNSA, please contact Katie Powless: kpowless59@hotmail.com