Dancer at Council Fire Youth Pow Wow, Toronto, August 2017

By Barb Nahwegahbow

Regent Park in Toronto’s downtown core was filled with the colourful sights and sounds of the first-ever Youth Pow Wow hosted by Council Fire Native Cultural Centre. Streetcars rumbled past on Dundas Street and passengers were treated to the sight of a painted tipi that signaled the entrance to the Pow Wow.

There were plenty of vendors selling beadwork, moccasins, paintings and T-shirts. The most popular booth, however, was the one selling Indian tacos and corn on the cob. Volunteers were kept busy serving a never-ending line of people standing in the hot sun. There were many disappointed faces as tacos and corn sold out as the afternoon wore on.

The Pow Wow, held on Saturday, August 26 was planned, organized and executed by the youth. Tasunke Sugar, Chair of the Pow Wow Committee was beaming as he said, “The turnout is beautiful! I’m so glad there’s so many people here, so many people from all walks of life, so many cultures.”

The theme of this year’s Pow Wow, he said, “is Restoration of Identity and today we showcase our Residential School survivors and we honoured them. That’s what we do at Council Fire. A big part of our initiative is to recognize and honour the legacy that our Residential School survivors are carrying on.”

Sugar, also acting as Arena Director was continually scanning the arena while being interviewed. “I have to make sure things are going smoothly,” he said, “make sure that people are in their places.” There will be another Pow Wow next year, he promised as he ran off to intercept a woman with a small child crossing the dance arena.

Michael Cheena is the Peer Support Worker in Council Fire’s program for both Residential School and Sixties Scoop survivors. “Our objective for having the Pow Wow,” he said, “was to connect with the community and educating settler allies and immigrant settlers about our culture and identity. I think it’s going good,” he said. “I hope there’s another one next year.”

The Eagle Staff carrier, Rick Rogers, a citizen of Aamjiwnaang First Nation said the Pow Wow was bringing recognition to the Residential School survivors. “That’s why I came,” Rogers said, “to recognize them, the inherent knowledge that they have, the trauma that they went through ad the memories they have – they’re teaching us that even though they went through a lot of bad experiences, they can still survive and carry on. And so can we. It’s an important lesson. I’m having a good time. It’s a wonderful time to be here.”

Tammy Enosse from Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve enjoyed the Pow Wow from her booth filled with her unique designs in beadwork and leatherwork. “It’s a really good turnout,” she said, “and it’s accessible for a lot of people who can’t get out of the city.” Sales were good, she said, and she’s kept busy in between Pow Wows creating new designs. “People want something unique,” said Enosse. Her beaded rings, leather-covered journals and beaded pendants were big sellers.

Tasunke Sugar and organizers estimated about 5,000 people attended throughout the day which included Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Council Fire was established in 1976 to serve the growing number of people who were living downtown, many of whom were becoming homeless. The organization now provides counselling, material assistance and other direct services to the Indigenous population and encourages and enhances spiritual and personal growth.