Elder Richard Assinewai

By Kelly Anne Smith

NORTH BAY – Grandmothers are everything. The important message is from Richard Assinewai, a Wikwemikong Unceded Territory citizen and the Head Elder of the Maamwi Kindaaswin Festival. The Pow Wow, hosted by the North Bay Indian Friendship Centre was themed “Honouring Our Grandmothers.”

On arrival at Lee’s Park, this reporter was almost run over by a six-year old boy yelling “Nookomis!” He ran into his beaming grandmother’s arms close by.

During opening ceremonies, Head Lorraine Liberty Whiteduck gave a shout out to Grandmothers and a call out for everyone to be water protectors.

The Chief Operating Officer of the Union of Ontario Indians, Gary Dokis, served as Master of Ceremonies. Dokis informed that eagle staffs of the Eagle Staff Ceremony are the original flags.

Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod, Head Elder Richard Assinewai, and George Rose from with the Timmins Native Friendship Centre took part in the Eagle Staff Ceremony. Only when the ceremony was completed could the Maamwi Kindaaswin Grand Entry begin.

Head Veteran Philip Moore was in the procession as well as Amanda Nicovic of Métis Nation.

Moose Bay played the Flag Song while High Ridge drummed for the Veteran’s Song. The host drum was the Otterhead Singers.

Dancers entering the dance area do so through the eastern doorway. Some stop to offer a personal gesture of gratitude to creation.

The celebration was interrupted for a short time. One dancer had to dance one rotation alone with the Head Elder while holding a white feather up high. The feather had fallen from her regalia. That can be a sign of disrespect because the feather had not been fastened tightly. Elder Assinewai asked her to think about having great pride in her regalia as they danced together. The dancer said that it was a good lesson for her and the other dancers.

Mckenzie Ottereyes-Eagle and Amanda Bellefeuille danced as lead Adults while Shkaabewis Tabobondung and Summer Fisher represented as Youth Dancers. Seth Sutherland and Sadie Turner led the Child Dancers.

Chief McLeod apologized to the crowd for being a bit late. He was stopped for possibly speeding from Garden Village. The officer told the Chief that no one could make up a story of a Chief in regalia on a Harley Davidson motorcycle was rushing to get to the pow wow on time, so he let him go with a warning.

Head Elder Richard Assinewai teaches that pow wow’s have been going on for many generations. “It’s our way of life but in order to do that we have to touch with the four elements. Fire – without fire we cannot survive. Earth – what we are standing on provides everything we need. Water – we have to honour it because it is a life force of mother earth. And the winds we breathe in and reconnect with nature. Utilizing all four elements offers healing, beauty, love, growth, and protection.”

The Sacred Fire Keeper of the Maamwi Kindaaswin Pow Wow considers his responsibility an honour. Ted Holder says his duty to it comes straight from the heart. The Sacred Fire was lit at 4:30 am during the Sunrise Ceremony on June 10. Holder explains the fire is for everyone, “Especially it is for our Ancestors, not just the living. So we show it respect. Children are shown to not throw just anything in it and not push the fire around. Let it be.”

Head Elder Assinewai adds, “People are grieving for many, many years. In our way of life, we go to these ceremonies and celebrations and honour the ancestors and thank them. To let them know they are not forgotten.”

In the teepee of the Sacred Fire there is a large wooden circular platter with sage, sweet grass, tobacco and cedar. Holder says the Sacred Fire teaches the Medicines too. “One can make an offering of tobacco or cedar, usually to the past.” Many dancers go into the teepee to make an offering before Grand Entry.

Holder is a member of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation. He received his spirit name one week before becoming the Sacred Fire Keeper by his Elder John Rice. “I am Giniw Miigwan which means Golden Eagle Feather. All my experiences now make more sense as to my purpose. It has been an interesting year. I just started my teachings a year ago.”

Head Elder Assinewai reminds us that the festival is for everyone. “This Pow Wow is about honouring our Grandmothers, women, and Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women. We honour them too, all women and all Grandmothers that walk on this earth.”