The 35th Annual Nipissing First Nation Traditional Pow Wow saw a record attendance this past September 2 and 3. While no-one could provide precise figures, an effort was made to keep track by giving a free prize ticket to everyone who signed in. MC Bob Goulais, who has been doing the job for many years, announced on Sunday that an estimated 2600 people attended on the Saturday. Brady Penasse, one of the leads on the NFN Pow Wow committee, was very pleased with the outcome, the record number of vendors (over 55) and all the comments he received from band members, guests from other First Nations, and the public at large.
“It was huge. It was shocking, shockingly huge compared to last year, shocking how many people were there on Saturday,” beamed Penasse. He had no figures for Sunday, but it was safe to say the numbers were also up. Last year, 2022, was the first in-person pow wow since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. This year people were ready to come out in full force to enjoy the community event. The pow wow is now held in Garden Village behind the band office, having moved from the traditional grounds at Jocko Point. The new location provides strategic advantages, such as more parking, more space for vendors, and other conveniences such as hydro hook-ups. Everything was exceptionally well organized. “We had doubled our parking attendants and our helpers from last year to this year, and parking was a lot smoother, with more signs for parking. The weather was beautiful too,” said Penasse, who took a well-deserved holiday following the pow wow.
The theme for this year was Maamwi Kweji-Giyakwaadziyang (“Trying to walk a good path together”). Penasse said it was chosen as a welcome to all those members who may be struggling with a variety of issues, because a pow wow is not simply a party, it’s a cultural event that is meant to be inclusive. The pow wow committee wanted the theme to reflect everyone working together for a balanced life. “We wanted to take into account people that struggle with mental health and addictions or substances or things like that. Culturally, there’s a lot of protocols to be sober, to live, you know, a straight life. And that’s why the theme for this year was to be inclusive of those people in our gatherings and in our functions and our events.” A pow wow re-unites people and is significant for the well-being and healing of participants, as well as the sheer joy of colour, drumming, teachings, and good humour displayed – a welcoming event.
On Friday evening, September 1st, a pageant was held for Miss Nipissing First Nation, the title won by Sassa Linklater. One of the organizers, Angel Armstrong, said, “The contestants are judged on their public speaking, community involvement and volunteering. We do have a dance portion, but it is not all based on who is the greatest dancer or has the greatest footwork. We also looked at how they’re carrying themselves while they dance. We listened to them speak their language and talk about their communities in such a positive way. This year was the first year we added a talent to the judging criteria and what great things they had to showcase! We looked for someone who can represent Nipissing First Nation in a good way, speak at other powwows and events across Turtle Island, and represent us through dance.”
On Saturday evening, for the first time ever, a Jingle Dress Special was held which drew dancers from across the region. Brady Penasse explained, “Normally our Eagle Staff and our flags have to be [retired] before the sun goes down, so we did do that, and normally that happens at 7pm. This year after that was done, we continued with a Jingle Dress special. So it was a very, very long day. I think we were finally done singing at 9:45. Saturday was a big, big day, a long day.” He added that it was a bit controversial because a traditional pow wow is not the same as a competitive pow wow. “It was more of a special, to give back to the dancers and the people and for enjoyment.” They ended up with five top dancers who chose envelopes with no knowledge of what was in the envelope. “It was all for fun… The Jingles are a special that attracts a lot more people to come to our powwow, and I know that we definitely broke records.”