Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures and extraordinary people, and the people of Nipissing First Nation are “something else” when it comes to taking up the gauntlet to celebrate their culture and traditions. The annual traditional pow wow, usually held on Labour Day long weekend, was cancelled this year because of COVID-19. That didn’t stop band members from working on another way to get together and celebrate, culminating in their very first virtual pow wow on Saturday, November 14.
The live stream pow wow shared the joy with over 1800 viewers from across North America. The hosts of the production, MC Bob Goulais and Elder Perry McLeod-Shabogesic, kept up a steady stream of good humoured banter between live and video-taped dances in the different styles, with Goulais noting, “This is the first ever virtual pow wow… The theme is We Will Not Forget Our Bundles (Gaan Niikesii Mshikikii Aabjikan) in response to COVID-19.”
McLeod-Shabogesic opened with an invocation acknowledging the spirit world and thanking the creation around us. “In these times we are in COVID – we are challenged to do the work we need to do, such as these ceremonies, these gatherings we have – to find a way. Through the gift of technology – the gift of knowledge and intellect – we create tools… It’s a hard time but hard times remind us of the good times.” He was also celebrating the birth of his grandson. The Goulais and McLeod-Shabogesic duo were affectionately referred to as “Baloney and Bannock.”
Organized by the NFN Cultural Centre, the live-streamed portion of the event took place at the NFN hockey rink, allowing for live chat as people joined in to comment on the proceedings. The videoed portions were created in October under the direction of band member Sara Cornthwaite, a digital content producer who splits her time between Toronto and North Bay, along with the cooperation of numerous community members.
The idea to go digital was brought forward by Mindy Martel-Larivière, director at the NFN Cultural Centre. “It was very challenging; there was a lot of uncertainty through the whole process up to the day-of,” said Martel, noting that the pow wow, one of the community’s main events, was shut down by chief and council who decided that NFN wouldn’t host any events until the new year for safety reasons. But for Mindy, “It was not a question of whether we were going to move forward, but how we were going to move forward. I had come up with the idea with two of my friends and we started to brainstorm on how it would look like. We wrote a game plan for chief and council for funds, and we went from there.”