By Rick Garrick
THUNDER BAY—Hundreds of students took advantage of the opportunity to dance a variety of intertribal, sneak-up and round dances during the Hammarskjold High School Pow Wow on May 18 in Thunder Bay.
“It’s pretty awesome to see that,” says Long Lake #58 Jingle Dress dancer Breanne Fisher, who began Pow Wow dancing when she was six-years-old. “My family’s been on the Pow Wow trail for a very long time. I just wanted to dance one day and just started dancing.”
Fisher has danced at Pow Wows across Canada and the United States, including the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“It was pretty big,” Fisher says about the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow. “There’s lots of people; all different dancers.”
Fisher participated in the Hammarskjold Pow Wow to support the children and youth.
“Especially for the ones that are having a hard time, because I know [with] youth it is a very sensitive age,” Fisher says. “So I just wanted to come and support them.”
Red Rock Indian Band’s Rachelle Pelletier, First Nation Métis and Inuit graduation coach with Lakehead Public Schools, says the Pow Wow was “amazing.”
“Largely this idea sprang from some of my Grade Nine students as well as some of my older Indigenous youth leaders who wanted to celebrate their culture in our school,” Pelletier says. “We have not had a Pow Wow here in a very long time.”
Pelletier says the Pow Wow was held through a $1,000 SpeakUp grant from the Ministry of Education, noting that the students helped prepare the application for the grant.
“It celebrates our Indigenous culture, not just as Indigenous people but also including the wider school community and non-Indigenous people,” Pelletier says. “It helps to open their eyes to the beauty and the celebratory nature of our culture. It is a huge educational opportunity as well for everybody.”
A hoop dancer special was featured during the Pow Wow, which included two drums, about 14 drummers and about 32 dancers.
“Dancing is a great way for healing,” says men’s traditional dancer Clyde Brandon Moonias, a Lakehead University student from Neskantaga. “For myself, I’ve found peace and harmony through dancing, peace, harmony and love.”
Moonias says Pow Wows were not available when he was going to high school.
“To see this happening here today, it is very special,” Moonias says. “It’s great to see so many dancers and singers come out to support the school. It creates awareness and knowledge of Aboriginal culture.”
Moonias notes that he uses some choreographed moves during Pow Wow dances such as the sneak up dance.
“Anyone can come to a Pow Wow and dance, whether it be special songs, Grand Entry or intertribal,” Moonias says. “For me, being a men’s traditional dancer and a younger fellow, my dances, especially the sneak up, are choreographed. When the sneak up starts, I do a certain set of movements when that sneak up is happening, and those are my choreographed moves.”
Fancy shawl dancer Clarissa Machendagoss, from Whitesand, also enjoyed the Pow Wow.
“I like how all the kids are coming out and dancing too,” Machendagoss says. “The emcee, [Talon Bird from Whitefish Bay] is awesome. He really likes to get everyone involved.”
Machendagoss adds that Pow Wow dancing is “very powerful.”
“You always feel something inside when you are dancing and participating at Pow Wows,” adds Machendagoss.