Get into the pow wow spirit and try a bannock taco
KAMLOOPS – The first suggestion Jesse Jacobs has for pow wow newbies is a profound statement about one of the premier cultural and competitive events for First Nations in British Columbia and Western Canada.
“You have to try the Indian tacos,” says Jacobs, coordinator for the Tk’emlups Indian band’s Kamloopa pow wow. “They’re insanely good.”
The Kamloops pow wow is one of the largest in Western Canada and celebrates its 34th year in August. About 20,000 people, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, are expected to attend over the three-day event, which boasts a substantial $77,000 total competition purse.
Pow wows are a lot like a rodeo. At the edge of the arena families are helping competitors set up for the next round of dances. It’s dusty, there’s a running commentary over loud speakers by an increasingly hoarse announcer, food and craft kiosks compete for customers, young folk flirt and kids get yelled at.
But it’s all set against the brilliant flash of dancers’ colourful regalia, the hum of powerful First Nations traditions and spectacular scenery.
Banned for decades by governments intent on forcing First Nations to assimilate, pow wows survived and continue to be an integral part of Aboriginal culture. Every summer dozens of small and large pow wows happen across B.C., from Moberly Lake in the northeast corner of the province to West Saanich on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, attracting competitors of all ages and visitors of all nationalities.
They come to watch the male dancers with starkly painted faces strutting their feathered and intricately beaded selves, female dancers swirling fringes and tin horns flaring out gracefully, and hear the backbeat of throbbing drums and wailing singers.
“Make sure you see the Grand Entry,” says Jacobs, a member of the Carrier First Nation of northwestern B.C. “It’s a marathon; you see all the dancers and all the regalia.
“The daily ceremony starts with flag bearers, often veterans of the armed forces, entering the arena, followed by dignitaries and then the dancers – all of them, all to the thunderous beat of 15 to 20 drum bands, in the Kamloopa case.
Tips for Pow Wow first-timers
- Regalia versus costume – Pow Wow dancers are serious competitors who have spent long, hard hours in training and making their regalia. Yes, regalia, not – really not – costumes. Do ask about the regalia – dancers often love to talk about their outfit.
- Speaking of photographs – Ask before photographing people outside of the pow wow area; it’s common courtesy. During competitions the announcer will let you know when taking photos is forbidden, such as during a prayer or a special dance.
- Pow wow ceremonies – These reflect the organic nature of First Nations culture. In other words, they’re seemingly without order and held with kids running all over the place. The power and context of each ceremony is important, just not laced up, so stand up during the Grand Entry and follow the crowd’s lead on wearing or doffing hats.
- Inter-tribals – The inter tribal is where the public is invited to dance in the pow wow circle. Yes, even you, white boy. Follow the beat of the drums, the direction of the other dancers and try to follow their steps. Quick dance primer: Taking a step and with flexed knees to bounce, land first on the ball of your foot (one beat) then bring your heel down (the next beat). Repeat with the other foot. There, you’re a champ in the making.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate – Pow wows in British Columbia usually happen during the height of summer, with heat exhaustion being the number one emergency first aiders attend to.
Now, back to those bannock tacos…
Kamloopa Pow Wow
- When: August 2-4, 2013
- Where: Secwepemc Pow Wow Grounds, just outside Kamploops, crossing the Yellowhead Bridge.
- What: Grand Entry: Friday 7 p.m, Saturday noon & 7pm, Sunday noon. Traditional, Chicken, Jingle, Grass, Fancy Feather & Fancy Shawl for Adult, Golden Age, Teen & Junior dance categories. Drum competition.
- Admission: $10 per day; $20 weekend pass
20th Annual Yellow Wolf Inter-tribal Pow Wow
- When: August 2-4, 2013
- Where: Tsartlip Park, 800 Stelly’s Cross Rd., West Saanich
- Admission: Free
- More info: Tel: 250-652-4635
7th Annual In-Shuck-ch Days
- When: August 17-18, 2013
- Where: Deroche, BC
- What: Free festival featuring traditional arts and crafts, ceremonies, workshops, games and entertainment.
- More info: http://www.inshuckch.com/inshuckchDays.html
Halfway River Rodeo
- When:August 18-19, 2013
- Where: Halfway River Reserve 75 km northwest of Fort St. John
- Admission: Free
- More info: Tel: 250 772 5058
Carving on the Edge Festival
- When: August 30 -September 22, 2013
- Where: Tofino
- What: Free festival celebrating wood carving artists, from masks to canoes, workshops and storytelling included.
- More info: http://www.carvingedgefestival.ca
Spirit Within Festival
- When: Sept. 27-29, 2013
- Where: Whistler, B.C.
- What: With general admission ticket ($8 to $18, family pass $49) First Nations artist demonstrations, traditional dancers and children’s activities, plus contemporary arts with an Aboriginal twist.
- More info: http://www.slcc.ca/
Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival
- When: Nov. 16 – 17
- Where: Harrison Mills
- What: Sts’ailes Band in the Sto:lo Nation celebrates North America’s largest gathering of bald eagles with Aboriginal artisan market, craft activities, eagle walking tour, dance and theatre
- More info: http://fraservalleybaldeaglefestival.ca/
West Mo Days
- When: July 26-28
- Where: Moberly Lake, Peace River Country
- What: West Moberly Lake Nations Treaty Day celebrations, a weekend of fun, games, activities competitive events and prizes for the whole family
- More info: http://wmfn.org/event/2013-west-mo-days-july-26-28
- When: Aug. 9-11, 2013
- Where: Williams Lake, Cariboo Chilcotin Metis Association of Williams Lake
- Macleese Lake Recreation Hall, 30 miles north of Williams Lake
- More info: http://mnbc.ca/news-events/community-events