By Colin Graf
SARNIA—While many powwows across Anishinabek lands may have histories dating far back in time, one Ontario college is celebrating a quarter-century of recognizing its Indigenous connections with its largest powwow to date.
Over 500 visitors were expected to attend the 25th Annual Lambton College Powwow the weekend of April 7-9, in Sarnia. Starting as a two-hour event in its inaugural year of 1992, the powwow grew into a 3-day affair this year to help celebrate the College’s 50th anniversary. Celebrations had to be moved to a nearby arena as the college location was not large enough.
“[The organizers goals were to] showcase the cultural background of Indigenous people to the College and wider Sarnia community, and through that awareness to create respect,” said Jane Manning, manager of Aboriginal education at Lambton. “That’s how relationships grow [between groups].”
A special feature of this year’s powwow was the Friday Education Day, when a steady stream of high school students came through the arena doors to a series of workshops on aspects of Indigenous culture including lacrosse, First Nations artistic styles and symbols, basket-weaving, and conversations with Elders about Indigenous languages and philosophy.
Organizers hope that bringing the high school students and inviting the wider public would help break the past perception that powwows are only for Indigenous people, according to Manning. Manning believes that events such as the inter-tribal dance are meant for all people to come together in unity.
Another unique feature of this year’s powwow is competitive dancing. Manning noted that in the past, dancing has always been as demonstration.
Manning explained that close to 200 indigenous students at Lambton College were instrumental in making the event a success.
“From the day they walked in the door in September they’ve been meeting, brain-storming, and fund-raising,” noted Manning.
The effort needed has been pretty stressful, but every year turns out better than the last, added Marcus Miskokomon, Lambton’s Aboriginal Student Council president and member of Bkejwanong (Walpole Island First Nation).
Students raised $6,500 from fundraisers which included the sale of uniquely-designed shirts for Orange Shirt Day, a day to recognize the harm the residential school system did to children’s sense of self-esteem and well-being and as an affirmation of the commitment to ensure that every child matters.
The secondary school students were not too aware of Indigenous culture, but they were very willing to learn, said Council member Wahbzii Shognosh, also from Bkejwanong.
Students were interested in learning about First Nations art, said Moses Lunham, an artist from the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point and recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Anishinabek Nation 7th Generation Charity. Not many of the Sarnia students knew about the Medicine Wheel or the 7 Grandfather Teachings, but were ready to learn, added Lunham, who led a workshop on rock-painting.
This year also marks the 25th year for the Aboriginal Culture and Learning Centre that helps students at Lambton College. The event not only featured dancing and drumming, but also food and art and craft vendors.
Sarnia teacher Emily Fortney-Blunt brought her sons to the powwow to help them learn about Canada’s Indigenous heritage and recognize who was here first, as well as supporting friends and students.
“[It’s important to recognize that] we are all treaty people,” stated Fortney-Blunt. “We all hold responsibility. We all need to work for reconciliation.”