AOK powwow head dancer celebrates red seal certification

Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day greets Aundeck Omni Kaning powwow head dancers Jen and Mike Ramsdin. photos by Michael Erskine

AUNDECK OMNI KANING—Head dancer Michael Ramsdin of Aundeck Omni Kaning has no problem blending his cultural heritage with success in his chosen career, in fact, he has just celebrated his red seal certification as a plumber—the first to do so through Mnidoo Mnising Employment and Training.

“He is our first red seal,” confirmed Mnidoo Mnising Employment and Training program manager Marilyn Stevens. “We are so proud of him.”

Mr. Ramsdin, who, along with his sister Jennifer Ramsdin, the Saturday male head dancer at the Aundeck Omni Kaning Powwow, has only been dancing for about three years, less than half the seven years he spent gathering his hours for his certification.

Mr. Ramsdin hasn’t always wanted to be a plumber. “I started out in my early 20s not knowing what to do,” he recalled. “I pretty much knew that the trades were the way to go.” In order to get a handle on a career path, Mr. Ramsdin took an exploratory college course. “I did different stuff every day,” he said.

He eventually wound up taking his pre-ticket courses in North Bay, following which he found employment with Parks Plumbing and Heating. “I started with them seven years ago and I am still with them,” he said. “I moved to Sudbury six years ago.” How was city life after growing up in the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation community? “City life has been very good to me,” he laughed. “There has always been plenty of work.”

The newly minted master plumber said that he received a “lot of help” from the Mnidoo Mnising Employment and Training program over the seven-year journey to his red seal. “A red seal means that I can work as a plumber anywhere in Canada,” he noted. “This summer I want to start my own business in the Manitoulin-Sudbury area.”

Powwow dancers peruse the giveaway area, a popular place to be at the powwow.
Powwow dancers peruse the giveaway area, a popular place to be at the powwow.

While most people think that plumbers spend most of their time with their arms in other people’s toilets, that isn’t really how his involvement in the industry has played out. Most of the work he has done in his career has been in construction.

Mr. Ramsdin has done a lot of work around the Island already, including the new Family Health Team building in Mindemoya, the washroom facilities in Little Current.

As to his dancing, Mr. Ramsdin noted that he came to that much later in life. “Two of my friends, Gabe Abotossaway and Bo Larabe, were in really bad traffic accidents,” he said. “I danced in honour of them. The first year I danced without regalia. It felt good to be out there.”

A few of his friends had danced in high school, he recalled, but until the tragedy struck his friends he hadn’t really considered it.

A special dance was held at the powwow for Mr. Abotossoway, whose injuries in that accident left him severely paralyzed. The ceremony included the presentation of an eagle feather.

Mr. Ramsdin said his mother Susan Ramsdin stepped up to help him with his regalia. “She really helped me out a lot,” he said. The intricate beadwork on his grass dancer regalia speaks volumes of the long hours she dedicated to sewing the patterns.

He chose the grass dancer style of dance because “it appealed to me,” he said, adding with a smile “the traditional dance is for the old guys.”

The dancer said that he now dances as “a motivation for my kids.” Mr. Ramsdin has two children aged nine and seven. He said that he feels that embracing his cultural roots helps to keep him well grounded.

He noted that the friends who danced in high school had drifted away from it, but that a number of them were taking a second look and considering getting back into the arena, something he thinks his dancing might have played a part in encouraging.

Although the powwow schedule was truncated a bit by Sunday’s rainy weather, the turnout by community members, visitors and vendors was very good. A signal relief for newly installed powwow coordinator Mandy Shawanda. “I took this on in May,” she said. “There wasn’t a lot of time to bring it together, but I have already started on next year’s powwow.