Waskaganish’s ‘forbidden’ powwow a resounding success

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It was a windy and rainy evening when we arrived in Waskaganish on the first evening of the community’s much-contested powwow September 21-23. The winds were so strong they knocked the powwow tent down. Besides worrying about the weather, there were concerns about the security of the dancers, which discouraged many to travel to Waskaganish. “It’s not going to be the same as other powwows,” one dancer said.

Many dancers felt they had to be there to support organizers Susan Esau, Virginia Wabano and the powwow committee who had decided to go ahead with the event despite the community’s negative referendum result. People from across Eeyou Istchee traveled to Waskaganish.

As news of the “forbidden” powwow was heard beyond our borders, it brought supporters from the other side of the bay, uniting Crees from Ontario and Quebec around the same cause. Beautiful when you think how damaged the bond with our Moose Factory kinship was because of the land claim the Cree Nation Government made on their territory.

When I arrived in Waskaganish, people were nervous. We didn’t know how many dancers would show up or if unwanted guests would come. A moose swam across the river, stopped to look at us, then swam back. It was an uplifting moment for everyone. “Our ancestors are with us,” somebody said.

As dancers started lining up for the grand entry, there was still some tension in the air, but all the participants looked so proud. I certainly was. History was made when we heard the drum and we knew it. Once we started dancing, everyone felt relieved – it was finally happening and there was no turning back.

Everyone seemed to forget about the whole drama surrounding the event. I got a few stares when I was wearing my regalia at the lodge but that’s it. This moment was too empowering to care about anything else. The round dance gathered a lot of people – the place was packed. Elders sure made everyone laugh with their jokes and wicked bear dance moves, and many of us, especially those from Waskaganish, felt at peace seeing this whole event was a success.

I’d be curious to know if anyone changed their mind about powwows. I noticed some were curious and came to watch a little bit, especially the kids. I know some were told not to go. Maybe they will be there next year.

Learning is sometimes a long process. Reconciliation still needs to happen within our own nation and let’s hope it will happen before Waskaganish’s second annual powwow.

The fact that my dad Romeo traveled from Ottawa to attend the event made my weekend even more special. Actually, he has attended every powwow I’ve been to, watching me dance my way to happiness. Having my family supporting me in the choices I made for myself is a blessing. We walk this path together and I embrace every second of our healing journey. It was obvious that folks were glad to see him there, as most of our leadership did not make any statement about the referendum. I can’t quite understand that. We elect people expecting them to stand for our rights, don’t we?

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