It is the Labour Day weekend which translates to Bank Holiday. The main activity in the locality is the Flying Dust, First Nation Pow Wow. Did we want to go? It wasn’t quite as I imagined from my influence of childhood Hollywood films although the main chief was smoking but not a pipe, a cigarette in a big arena with No Smoking signs significantly displayed as well as No Chewing Tobacco. Perhaps you can’t tell an Indian Chief not to smoke a ‘pipe’ of peace.
We arrived as the opening parade was getting underway and the first thing I noticed was a huge Union Jack in amongst all the other locality flags and whatever you call a First Nation standard but of course, there had been significant treaties signed with the UK over the years. One of the senior men was dressed in ceremonial costume but the colour palette was a less than traditional red, white and blue and his shield bore the Union Jack as well. You may be able to just make him out in the photo.
Once all the dancers were assembled on the floor (ice hockey arena but pared down to the concrete) the singing and drumming competition started. It is very ignorant to admit but I couldn’t really differentiate between the bands and the drumming rhythm appeared almost identical as well. Whilst this was under way a collection of dancers continued to parade around the arena in various stages of costume preparation. It was a little weird to see some in almost full regalia apart from the headdress which was replaced by a baseball cap, or a mobile was being intently used in their hands. Some of the senior members of the communities had dressed in full costume but others were wearing western clothing but traditional headdresses. It all looked a little bizarre at this point.
The dance competition seemed to be the main event for the afternoon, starting with the little ones and working up through the age groupings to the Golden Years who, presumably, were the most authentic. The women’s dance was very restrained in these senior ladies and the traditional categories which, considering it appeared to simply be to bend your knees in time to the music or at most, progress extremely slowly, I couldn’t really understand what the judges were looking for. The first time this was performed was a young girls’ event and after 3-4 minutes of bobbing up and down I was a little relieved when it was complete, only to learn that they were to continue for another ‘song’!!
The males were able to be more animated but some did end up looking distinctly like chickens in the way they strutted around, elbows akimbo with feathers stuck in their hair. Not quite as daunting and scarey as I think they were supposed to be. There also was a category called grass dancing where the costumes were less feathery but had more tassels which did actually mimic the swaying grass in some of the more accomplished performers. The relative simplicity of the steps and moves did enable the event and discipline to be very inclusive.
All through the afternoon, individuals or pairs of people wandered through the crowd with handwritten signs for private raffles or cash tombolas. This took a while for me to comprehend as we just don’t see it at home. Any event has to have a registered raffle or all proceeds are for one cause or charity but not here. Some of the articles were quite intricate hair adornments or baby moccasins, quilted blankets or beaded ‘front pieces’.
The costumes were quite phenomenal. The younger generation of performers tended towards brighter and more vivid colours, particularly those of a synthetic base, including lots of sparkly bits. One particular style seemed to have skirts covered in hoops of bells but Marilyn told me later that historically they would have been the curled up lids of tins of snuff! I’d have to admit that I preferred those costumes worn by the Golden Years performers as the colours were more muted and natural. One of the males though did look to have more in common with Morris dancers than Indians with his felt hat, waistcoat and bells round his ankles. Some of the regalia cost thousands of dollars but I suspect that many were priceless as it would be almost impossible to cost the workmanship and (wo)man hours mum or grandma put in sewing hundreds and thousands of beads onto the various articles which comprise the different components of the overall outfit. My favourite piece was the moccasin boots, if I could think of a practical use for them I may succumb but that’s unlikely.