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Fifth Annual Spirit of the Drum Educational and Traditional Powwow Attracts Thousands to Celebrate Indigenous Culture and ReconciliAction
Fifth Annual Spirit of the Drum Educational and Traditional Powwow Attracts Thousands to Celebrate Indigenous Culture and ReconciliAction
Posted on 06/15/2023

June 15, 2023 (Smiths Falls, ON) From June 10 to 11, the fifth annual Smiths Falls District Collegiate Institute (SFDCI) Spirit of the Drum Educational and Traditional Powwow brought together Indigenous dancing, workshops, music, and informational booths, captivating the hearts of over 4,000 in attendance. Held on Duck Island in the heart of Smiths Falls, the free two-day event celebrated and raised awareness about Indigenous culture and traditions, while also educating the public on what students are learning in school. The powwow echoed the essence of reconciliAction, a term coined by Gord Downie to inspire individuals to take tangible steps towards change.

The Spirit of the Drum Educational and Traditional Powwow is an extension of SFDCI's Indigenous studies program and Real-World Learning opportunities for students. Collaborating with Indigenous Cultural Advisors and Knowledge Keepers from Pikwakanagan, Akwesasne, Tyendinaga, and Kitigan Zibi, these initiatives provide invaluable real-world learning experiences both within classrooms and at the powwow, which serves as a platform to showcase the culmination of knowledge acquired throughout the school year.

A highlight of the event was the powerful Grand Entry Ceremony, featuring Indigenous dancers from various nations both local and across Canada, including the Mohawk, Algonquin, Mi’kmaq, Metis, Siksika, Blackfoot and Lakota Nations. They performed traditional grass dances, shawl dances, hoop dances and smoke dances, mesmerizing the audience with the profound connection to their ancestral heritage. The powwow was honoured to welcome local Chief of Pikwakanagan Algonquin First Nation Greg Sarazin and Algonquin Grand Chief Savannah McGregor.  

The powwow brought together over 120 Indigenous dancers from across Turtle Island, New York State, Southern Ontario, Akwesasne, Kitigan Zibi, Pikwakanagan, North Bay, and Manitoulin Island. Additionally, five drum groups from as far away as Arizona and New Brunswick travelled to drum for both the traditional and competitive dances. The event also featured 19 food, craft, and education vendors, offering attendees the opportunity to explore a variety of hand-made crafts and gather information on Indigenous-related services.

SFDCI student Koda Lerat, an iLead (Indigenous Leadership) member is one of the 60 students who volunteered over the weekend. He and his fellow Indigenous youth have been an integral part of the powwow, including the Tipi raising ceremony and Sacred Fire tending.  

“It honestly means so much for me because seeing the people dancing and the people in the audience tapping their feet and using their hands as drums. It just shows that people still care, and the powwow and everything here shows that we still exist,” says Lerat, who adds that it was great to see so many people learning about the traditions and history of Indigenous peoples.

The four workshops provided an opportunity for the public to explore topics that are connected to the Indigenous Studies courses at SFDCI. These workshops were taught by the same Cultural Advisors/Knowledge Keepers that students learn from in their classes. The workshops included Mohawk Wampum, Culture and History taught by DJ White; Inuit History, Language and Games instructed by William Komaksiutiksak; Algonquin History and Drum Song offered by Barry Sarazin; and Medicine Wheel/Sacred Medicine teachings facilitated by David and Frances Jock. More than 120 people attended the workshops and organizers are already planning to expand access to these public learning opportunities next year.

“The iLead students are incredible. At the powwow, students tend to the Sacred Fire, they raise the Tipi, provide all the tobacco ties that are necessary, both for offering at the Sacred Fire,” says SFDCI teacher and powwow committee member Paul Merredew. “It's just incredible when they're given the tools and the knowledge and especially the encouragement and support, how far they will take things. They take such pride in what real-world learning opportunities, like the powwow, empower them to do on their own. 

SFDCI Grade 11 student and iLead member Carley Farr says, Seeing all these nations come together and all these different people come from different places, you get to learn so much about it. And you get to talk to them personally, which is the best way to learn. It's a very educational weekend. I just love powwow so much. It's so enlightening to be there with nations coming together - I can't even describe it. My favourite part is sleeping next to the sacred fire under the stars, it’s unbeatable. 

The powwow also featured more than 60 displays curated by SFDCI Indigenous Studies art and English students. These exhibits explained how Indigenous First World War soldiers' lives were documented. Students participating in this project gained valuable experience as they handled primary source documents, conducted research, and wrote biographies. What made this year's undertaking especially meaningful was the soldiers' research, which originated from Pikwakanagan. As a result, there exists a profound connection between the students' work and the powwow itself. This initiative is part of the Upper Canada District School Board's Hill 70 Project.

REDress displays shedding light on Missing or Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) were highlighted. The displays presented a biography of each woman, details of their cases, and cultural information regarding the nation they belonged to. One of those REDress’ shared the story of Daphne Mesher Brown of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NL. The then 24-year-old and mother of three was the victim of domestic violence at the hands of her then husband, who would later murder her in 1970. Daphne’s sister, Flora Riley, was one of the attendees and has been keeping her story alive and advocating for help for victims of family violence.

"The most important thing for any student or visitor walking around here is to visit the education of it … reading and learning about each of the murdered women and their stories. It's very important because it's still happening to Indigenous girls who are missing and murdered,” she says.

Riley adds that it’s great to see so many people both young and old come out to the powwow to learn and celebrate Indigenous culture.  

The weekend also provided visitors with educational sessions on Indigenous Sacred Medicines, the Sacred Fire, and the protocols of a gathering or powwow. Visitors expressed their heartfelt appreciation and gratitude to the dedicated students and organizers for their remarkable efforts in orchestrating the powwow and fostering the spirit of reconciliation.

Dozens of international students and their host families from various schools within the district also attended the powwow. These students were brought to the powwow through the efforts of the MLA/TR Leger Homestay program.

The Grand Feast is an essential component of a powwow, symbolizing the hospitality of the hosting group towards the invited dancers, drummers, and head staff. This aspect of real-world learning exemplifies SFDCI’s hospitality program, instructed by Chef Jeff Burns. Students researched Indigenous recipes, sourced ingredients and prepared the Feast for 80 people this year, based on Indigenous culture and tradition. Chef Burns and his students crafted a remarkable meal: a venison and three sisters Shepard's Pie, complemented by a three Sisters salad consisting of beans, corn, and squash, followed by a delectable Strawberry Bannock dessert. The dancers and drummers who participated in the Feast were unanimous in their admiration for Chef Burns and his students' culinary skills.  

Reflecting on the powwow, Lerat says, “Honestly, it's just one of those moments where you stand back and just get to say wow, we did this. All of us - the iLead students, Paul Merredew, Kristi Donovan, and Chantal Seguin, we all did this. We've all put this together. It is truly a remarkable thing.”  

Other key SFDCI staff included Indigenous Art teachers Rebecca Soudant and Anita Mitra, who displayed their students’ art projects done in the style of or inspired by Indigenous teachings to give voice to their students’ exploration of the arts as a tool for self-expression.  

Partners in the event include: Dancers and Drum groups from New Brunswick, Kitigan Zibi Quebec, Akwesasne, Pikwakanagan, Tyendinaga, the Town of Smiths Falls; Parks Canada; Smiths Falls District Collegiate Institute staff and student volunteers, Community volunteers and the Upper Canada District School Board.  

For more information, please contact:  

Paul Merredew SFDCI

Committee Member

Spirit of the Drum Traditional and Educational Powwow Committee

[email protected]

Julia Crowder Town of Smiths Falls

Committee Member

Spirit of the Drum Traditional and Educational Powwow Committee

[email protected]

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