Together at last: NFN pow wow is medicine for the soul

The first in-person traditional pow wow since COVID was a massive celebration over the Labour Day Weekend in Garden Village, Nipissing First Nation. In this photo dancers and guests joined together for the first Two-Step since 2019, with 59 couples in total winding around the arena, many of them laughing while trying to follow the lead dancers.

After two years of virtual pow wows, while excellent in their own way during lockdowns, it was a joyous and friendly occasion to see so many people assembling for the 34th annual Nipissing First Nation Traditional Pow Wow on Labour Day weekend. The wet weather on Saturday, September 3rd didn’t dampen spirits, but it did affect attendance, while Sunday’s beautiful sunny day saw triple the number, according to organizer Brady Penasse, NFN Cultural Events Coordinator. It’s been a tough two years for First Nations across the country and everyone seemed ready to celebrate being alive and together. 

The theme this year was Nishnaabe mshkiki emiikshkaagyang, “The Medicine that connects us all”. Brady Penasse explained, “That encompasses seeing each other. [We were] not able to hug, not able to see our smiles under the masks these past years and it’s taken a toll on our community and a lot of other communities surrounding. Everybody resonates with that, especially the community members we’ve lost too, and we’re still grieving that we couldn’t see them at our gathering this year. We really feel for those. Even while planning this pow wow I suffered the loss of my grandfather, my Mishomis, he passed away two weeks ago – he was one of our few last remaining residential school survivors, Howard Penasse. …The medicine that connects us all, even our ancestors are included in that, our medicines are included in that, because we are medicine for each other, medicine for ourselves.”

Pow wows themselves are considered healing events, and Brady Penasse, having suffered personal loss, said the theme resonated with him. “We have two staffs for residential school survivors in our community and in the past my Mishomis carried the male residential school survivors’ staff, so it really touched base with my family to not have him there, and our whole community feels that too. What I want to share about this theme is that we don’t know who is going to be there next year, so we have to make it as amazing as we can for this year and have a good celebration – you never know.”

And it was a good celebration. Bob Goulais returned as the ceremonial host, offering his good humour and inimitable style of making everyone feel comfortable, working alongside Arena Director Tory Fisher. The Head Elders were Lorraine Liberty and Perry McLeod-Shabogesic, while Michael Couchie and Glenna Beaucage served as the Head Elders for the ceremonies. Penasse explained this change-up, “We usually have one set of elders – but this year we had to rely on two sets – two male and two female. …We had 4 days of sacred fire and the two elders had to be there for the Sunrise Ceremonies they hosted from Thursday to Sunday. Obviously if they are there at sunrise, and given their age, it’s hard for them to stay all day at the pow wow and how stressful that would be, so we had to divvy up a lot of tasks in that sense.”

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