I am ashamed to say that, despite my having lived in Canada for almost sixteen years, have never once attended any kind of First Nations events open to the general public, even when they were closer to where I live. Well, this being the year Canada is celebrating her 150 years, I jumped at the chance to attend and witness a tradition of Canada's first people.
It blew me away. The drums. The singing. The dancers. The colours. The art and artisans... It was all so beautiful! I spent the majority of my time sitting on the grass at the dancer's circle, watching and listening.
I listened as the crowd was told that the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg are participating in Canada's 150, which might seem a little odd. For them, that's 150 years of occupation. 150 years of subjugation. 150 years of attempted genocide. 150 years of a legacy of cruelty and neglect, from the awful residential schools to the current water crisis.
Who would want to celebrate that?
Of course, that's not what they're celebrating. They celebrating the fact that, despite all of it, in spite of the best efforts of the powers that be, they are still here. They are still dancing. They are still speaking their language, telling their stories, beating their drums.
It was a powerful thing to listen to.
And it's true. Canada, the nation we might know today, is celebrating her 150th. For her First Nations, however, a couple of extra zeros at the end of that wouldn't go amiss. They've been here a long time. And they're still here, despite colonisers and all the shit they've pulled.
This is an uncomfortable subject for a lot of people. It just doesn't jive with their version of Canada—that beautiful, inclusive, friendly place. It makes us all uncomfortable to think that the lives we lead now and love so much came at such an incredible, tragic, human cost. But here's the thing: it happened. It is happening. And unless we shine some light on it, it will continue to happen. We can't just turn our backs on this shameful side of ourselves and pretend it doesn't exist. The first step to making things right is to acknowledge the wrong.
But that's a discussion for another day.
The powwow I attended was full of nothing but warmth, humour, and pride. I was struck at how, despite my not being Kitigan Zibi, I was made to feel so welcome. Special thanks to the vendor who shared some of his bug spray with us. Poor JT was being eaten alive. I forgot to ask your name, but that was very kind of you.
We were all encouraged to dance, Anishinabeg or not. I didn't because I had a bought of crippling anxiety. I did want to, though. Maybe next time.
I was, I'll admit, poorly prepared for the powwow. I didn't know what to expect, so I neglected bug spray, money, and sunscreen. I couldn't buy the things I saw and fell in love with (looking at you, gorgeous art), and, despite it being overcast and threatening rain, I managed to get quite sunburnt.
I'm very, very white, guys.
I had a wonderful time at the powwow, and I'm so glad I went (very nearly didn't... anxiety). I will definitely be back next year (if y'all will have me!), and I'll come better prepared, too. More money, basically. I really wanted that print.
Thank you to everyone there. Thank you for sharing this beautiful part of your culture with the rest of us. Thank you for inviting me in. I'm so glad I got to experience it for myself.
To the rest of Canada, you really should go to one of these events. If they're open to the public, if you're invited in, please do go. Canada's First Nations are a beautiful people, with beautiful traditions. I think we should all celebrate them together.