A worldwide pandemic, a cancelled powwow season of 2020 and a year like none other — This year with the reopening of Alberta, powwow season is expected to have one of the largest turn out of spectators and dancers.
“The powwow trail is going from one territory to another Indigenous territory and traveling from another treaty area to the next,” said Karlene Cutknife, a third generation Indigenous dancer.
COVID-19 impacted many within the Indigenous community and exacerbated social conditions. Unfortunately, Cutknife was not able to be creative during the pandemic like many non-Indigenous communities.
“At the start of the pandemic I was dealing with my own mental health issues. People within my family were dealing with addictions. It was not a good time to be creative and beading,” said Cutknife.
She says later on in the pandemic there was virtual powwows that took place and they were very helpful in uplifting her soul and her household during this pandemic.
“It really helped in finding that connection again to the powwow community,” said Cutknife.
She explains that a powwow season is a time of the year when Indigenous communities enjoy mother nature on her earth. The season is where Indigenous communities celebrate the summer solstice through dance.
Cutknife says each dancer has their own form of prayer through dance.
“It’s such a blessing and uplifting place to celebrate.”
She says that the powwow consists of drummers, the drum, singers, dancers, elders, dignitaries and spectators.
“Overall, a powwow is where we all come together to socialize and connect through dance.”
She says that she dances for community, family and friends.
“It’s a way of prayer and healing … I dance for those who can’t dance,” she said.
“My fathers’ teaching trickles down to me. With my knowledge of the powwow circle I was able to pass it down to my twin daughters and my oldest daughter who now have that path to dance,” said Cutknife.
“My father Willard Cutknife danced powwow from a very young age. How he learned about the powwow and singing was through his uncle Ben Cutknife. So, I come from a powwow family,” said Cutknife.
“My children dance with so much pride.”
Cutknife says her family is working on completing her partner’s and her daughter’s regalia in preparation for the upcoming powwow season.
She shared a positive childhood memory of seeing a happy Indigenous family at a powwow. They were wearing fully beaded regalia, they were dancing and happy. This positive image has shaped her worldview.
“So, through life we go through things. We can’t take ourselves too seriously but we can take ourselves back to what we imagined when we were children. It gives us that motivation to keep going, keep dancing and keep being creative and keep living our culture,” said Cutknife.
Cutkife talks about the term ‘powwow family’ that is commonly used on the powwow trails.
“I have a powwow mom and I have a bunch of powwow sisters, throughout all the years of dancing, since I was 11 years old. I’m now 35. I built this deep friendship within the powwow circle. This friendship is so strong, to a point that I call them my powwow family.
“This past weekend I had this young little girl that I mentored. She still comes up to me and asks if she can call me her powwow mom? I’m like yes! Absolutely,” said Cutknife.
“A powwow family is a relationship that you built over time, where you feel like this is your powwow mom, your powwow dad, and these are your powwow sisters and this your powwow family,” said Cutknife.
“I attended the mini powwow in Samson on Saturday afternoon and went to Alexis for the evening. It was a great feeling to be surrounded by people and dancers, listening to the song and drums. It made me very happy,” said Katherine Swampy, a Cree Jingle dress dancer and Samson Cree Nation councillor.
She says a powwow is many things and a little hard to describe. The dances are ceremonial and there are pipe ceremonies, feasts, and a lot of prayers involved.
But it’s also a traditional celebration for Indigenous peoples. Most nations host the powwow celebration, which includes dances for all ages, sometimes they are a competition and sometimes they are traditional, categories of dance and age are included.
“People camp out at the powwow site, many teepees surround the arbor, there’s an emcee to tell the people what’s going on and which category is dancing. There’s drums and singing, and sometimes they are competing too. There’s other events like a pageant for youth, princesses and warriors. And sometimes hand games take place,” said Swampy.
Swampy says it’s fun for spectators too. There’s generally a lot of food trucks and vendors for people to buy merchandise. Everyone is welcome to join in the celebrations at a powwow, which are friendly and welcoming spaces.
Shes says this country is undergoing deep reconciliation. The public is encouraged to come out and enjoy the show together.
The Samson Cree Nation powwow will be held Aug. 13 to 15.