Pow Wow shares First Nations culture in Swift Current

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It was just as common to see hand shakes and hugs as it was to see high intensity dancing and colourful regalia at the Living Sky Casino Nekaneet First Nations Pow Wow in Swift Current on June 14-15.

The two day Pow Wow attracted dancers, singers and drummers from across the prairie provinces and into the northern United States, with the move from a winter Pow Wow paying off with strong attendance both days.

Trevor Marion, General Manager at Living Sky Casino, shared some insights into Pow Wows during a Lunch and Learn event at the Swift Current Museum on June 11, describing some of the traditions and cultural significance of these gatherings.

"This is a form of visiting. It's a form of touching base again with your friends and families, and obviously creating new friends and family," Marion explained. "Traditionally it's a gathering of First Nations people of all nations."

This togetherness is celebrated at the start of the Pow Wow with inter tribals or friendship dances, with all styles of dancers circling the Pow Wow arena together.

The drum beat is an important constant during the Pow Wow, as the drum is the 'Grandfather Spirit' which provides the heartbeat for the gathering.

"It's called the heartbeat because it gives life to any dance that we have. Anything that we do it starts with the drum," Marion explained. "When you go to a Pow Wow you obviously feel it. You'll feel that beat when people are singing and everything else."

Many dances and dance styles were featured over the weekend, with the motions an expression of thankfulness to the Great Spirit. With the Southwest so close to the American border, the event also featured some unique subtle difference in what people were able to see.

"We go clockwise. But the men in the United States will dance counter clockwise, and on the outside. Those people are considered the warriors in their society, and they're they protectors. They're dancing on the outside to protect everybody in the middle," Marion explained.

By watching the various dances and dancers, spectators were able to appreciate the grace and power displayed during the Pow Wow.

Women's Traditional dancing features women dressed in shawls of buckskin or leather who keep fringes on their regalia moving to beat with delicate foot work.

"This is reserved for the older women. This dance of honour reflects the women in First Nations society."

Women's Fancy boasts women wearing lighter shawl material in more energetic movements.

"They actually try to simulate, when they're dancing, an eagle or a bird flying. And you'll see the shawls open up, and they're really the flair for the ladies."

The dancing activity moves to the other end of the spectrum with the power and speed of Men's Fancy.

"They're the flair. They're the dynamites of the Pow Wow circuit. They try to move as much as possible, as quick as possible, to demonstrate the fancy style that they do have."

Swift Current's Pow Wow offered a total of $80,000 in prize money during the weekend, and in addition to the dance category payouts there were also singing groups competing for cash prizes.

Marion said bringing a Pow Wow to Swift Current was important, as the Living Sky Casino wanted to open a dialogue with the community after opening in 2008. They hoped to replace skepticism  and negative attitudes with a better understanding of First Nations people. By hosting an annual First Nations event in Swift Current's schedule of yearly events, the Pow Wow has truly become a two-way street in sharing culture while assisting in building relationships and community healing.

"We thought it was an opportunity to showcase Swift Current. We can bring in and show our people that hey Swift Current is here, and that we're here, come join us in our celebration here."

"This is why we do it, to not only share culture, like our Pow Wows, but to give an opportunity to bring people here, to break down those barriers. To show them hey Swift Current is a great place. It's a beautiful city. And we're living together."

Marion pointed out the Pow Wow had a significant financial impact on Swift Current during the weekend.

"Our businesses are busy. Our restaurants are busy. Our hotels are going to be full. They're going to shop, they're going to play."

Organizations: Living Sky Casino Nekaneet First Nations Pow Wow, Living Sky Casino, Neekaneet First Nations

Geographic location: Swift Current, Saskatchewan

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