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Ermineskin Cree Nation Powwow grand entry: An inspirational experience

By Kinnukana, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Alberta Native News
The grand entry at the 2023 Ermineskin powwow on May 27. (Photo by Tara Cutarm/Ermineskin Cree Nation communications)

By Kinnukana, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Alberta Native News

The Ermineskin Cree Nation 2023 Powwow Celebrations took place at the Maskwacis Bear Park from May 26 – 28, 2023. The event opened on May 26th with the First Grand Entry on the East side of the arbour. At the beginning of every powwow, there is always a grand entry where everyone rises to their feet and removes their hats, the drummers sing the grand entry song as an elder leads a parade of dignitaries and dancers into the gathering space. Participants hold flags that represent the various groups in attendance. The dancers join in an opening dance that welcomes everyone to the celebration. A Grand Entry is a beautiful remarkable sight and even more touching if you can participate in the ceremony.

Dr. Karen Aberle, a city councillor, had the opportunity to participate in the Grand Entry at Ermineskin Cree Nation. She was representing the City of Wetaskiwin as a dignitary. Dignitaries from the surrounding areas are invited to attend and participate in the Grand Entry as a sign of support and respect for the First Nations celebration. Dr. Aberle said “I had the privilege of being part of my first Grand Entry at the Ermineskin Powwow. It was an incredible experience I will never forget.”

Dr. Aberle has attended powwows in the past, but this was her first time being a participant. In the procession, she proudly walked along with other dignitaries behind the First Nations Chiefs and Council Members and in front of the RCMP Officers. There is a particular order that is followed for all grand entries. Once inside the arbour, she was surrounded by about six hundred dancers in all their beautiful regalia. The dancers dance sunwise (clockwise) around the dance arbor, showing the audience that they are ready to begin the celebrations. Dr. Aberle shared how being there in that moment felt to her. She said that if you ever have the opportunity to stand in the middle of all the dancers, all the culture and traditions while listening to the drumming of the grand entry song it just grounds you.

Dr. Aberle has been on her reconciliation journey, and she is focused on how she can better understand her Treaty responsibilities as a non-Indigenous woman. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) defined reconciliation as the process of “establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country.” Dr. Aberle has a British and German background and was born and raised in Calgary but has been living in Wetaskiwin for the past nine years. While studying archaeology at the University of Calgary, she had the opportunity to be involved in Indigenous ceremonies when invited, mostly with the Blackfoot and Tsuut’ina Nations. Dr. Aberle appreciates Indigenous culture and said that when she moved to Treaty 6 Territory, she had everything new to learn again because of the differences in the culture and traditions. She said it is important not to be pan-Indigenous and she tries to learn as much as she can about all First Nations and encourages others to do the same.

Dr. Aberle said she loves attending powwows and how they bring all Nations together and everyone to celebrate the various cultures. When asked what advice she would offer to other non-Indigenous people who are looking to become more involved with powwows, Dr. Aberle encourages everyone to just go to a powwow. Powwows are open to everyone, and anybody can attend. She said that sometimes people are reluctant because they wonder if they are welcome and if they can go there. Some people think that they will feel like outsiders, but you won’t. If they just go once, they will realize that everyone at the powwow is so welcoming, honest, and open to sharing. It is a celebration of culture. It is something we should all learn more about. The powwow is a wonderful opportunity to witness Indigenous culture in a fun and respectful way and to be doing your part in reconciliation with First Nations in Alberta.