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July/August 2004 issue


CG In depth - Powwow
Rhythm of nations
Families meet up on the powwow trail under the spell of drum and dance
Story by Drew Hayden Taylor

On my wall is a photograph of a man at a powwow. He is dressed in traditional Ojibwa regalia, including an impressive feathered bustle on his back, a leather vest and breechcloth and a multicoloured roach adorning his head. He looks quite magnificent, proud and utterly aboriginal. In his hand is a can of Pepsi, and he's also wearing some pretty cool sunglasses. I bet his stomach is full of Indian tacos that he chewed with the non-native fillings in his teeth. He is a contemporary powwow dancer, with a moccasined foot in two worlds.

The powwow. It is fabulous and fattening, and every weekend in the spring, summer and fall, somewhere in this country, there are a couple happening. In my travels, I've been privileged to see powwows from the Okanagan to the Ottawa valleys, from Oklahoma to the halls of Yale University. Every one is different, yet each is familiar. That is the nature of powwows. Some might argue it's a state of mind. When I was growing up on my reserve, Curve Lake First Nation, two hours northeast of Toronto, the highlight of every summer was the powwow. And the highlight of every powwow was the challenge of sneaking into the grounds without paying the entrance fee. Summers were boring on the reserve.


Once inside, we would eat ourselves silly — all the fried foods an eight-year-old tummy could hold. There was nothing more exciting than comparing the hamburgers from three different tribal nations and, of course, watching all the strangers flood into our community. Our reserve practically doubled during the powwow. Visitors came from all over, checking out the arts and crafts and asking, "What kind of dance is that?" Different native people from across the land in gorgeous, bright outfits (do not call them costumes!). That was back in the days of bottled pop, and all of us kids would scour the grounds looking for the precious, empty, returnable bottles that were as good as cash. Today, they're plastic, and many native people are predisposed to diabetes. The times, they have certainly changed.

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Related stories:
In Depth: Rhythm of nations


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