WIIKWEMKOONG—The Wiikwemkoong Cultural Festival has been taking place for 57 years, drawing participants from across Canada, the US and beyond. This year was no exception, with visitors hailing from Switzerland and participants who brought their Aborigine dance traditions to share all the way from Australia.
The invocation was delivered by elder Alex Fox, who spoke in Anishinabemowin before switching to English. Mr. Fox gave a thanksgiving for life and the importance of having a good mind and a good heart in the Anishinabe culture and understanding of life.
“We have to have unity in the world,” he said. “We need to have unity in the world. Bring minds together at this time, including grandmother moon, grandfather sun, the fish life, the frogs, the the flying creatures, all of the wildlife, the medicines, the water, all of the good things in life, so that they all can be healthy and strong.”
The flags under which the warriors of Wiikwemkoong served were processed through the dance arena as High Eagle Singers performed a flag song. Flags and eagle staffs were posted under the direction of the head veteran Robert Eshkibok, US Marine Corps, and the arena director David Trudeau of Wiikwemkoong.
Masters of ceremonies for the weekend’s proceedings were Dennis Bowen of Seneca, New York and Wiikwemkoong’s own Chris Pheasant.
The head dance judge, an important role as the cultural festival functions as a competition powwow, was Amos Key of the Six Nations of the Grand River. Smoke Dance singer was Sheldon Sundown. Host drum was Mystic River of Groton, Connecticut.
Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier delivered the welcoming remarks in both Anishinabemowin and English before the first intertribal dances set things off in grand style.
“I want to welcome everyone on behalf of the chief and council and all of the community,” he said. “Welcome to our visitors from across the country and beyond.” Ogimaa Peltier also welcomed returning community members, for whom the August long weekend serves as a homecoming opportunity.
“And thanks to the dancers,” said Ogimaa Peltier. “Without you we could not put this event on each year.” The Ogimaa noted that the opportunity to revitalize the culture and traditions of their community were of particular importance to residential school survivors and members of the 60s Scoop generation who are finding their way back to their own history and traditions.
Marching in the opening ceremonies in her Royal Canadian Legion uniform was 91-year-old Ida Embry, whose husband served in the Second World War. Ms. Embry has taken her job in remembering the sacrifices of those men and women who served their country with great dedication, and she continues to march to the Veteran’s Song even though her pace is now slowed by a walker.
Among the visitors to the powwow grounds this weekend were Ted Scheidegger and his partner Nicole Novak of Arosa, Switzerland, who are taking their two-year-old twins Julian and Alexander on tour across Canada.
Among the many events taking place during the festival were workshops on the history of regalia and traditional dance teachings by Alanna Trudeau and her son Pahquis; ‘Voices of Our People’ by Phyliss Williams, which explored the history of Indigenous languages; ‘Voices of Our Ancestors,’ which explored history the power of storytelling and ways in which to enhance storytelling by Bea Shawanda; the history of Wiikwemkoong, focussing on the residential school system and treaty impacts by historian Joshua Manitowabi; ‘Koori Dance with Goombine’ with Richard Moore (Goombine), which explored the traditions of the Aborigine dances of Australia.
Moore-Goombine hails from the Yuin Nation on the southeast coast of New South Wales. He is a songman who carries the ancient songs of his people passed down for thousands of years. Along with Moore-Goombine were the Salt Water Spirit Dancers who bring the animals of Australia to life with their dance to the song of the digeridoo. Celebrity chef and television host David Wolfman from APTN spoke in the evening about how he creates ‘Indigenous Fusion’ by combining traditional ingredients with foods and flavours from all over the world for “traditional foods with a modern twist.”
Some of the action on the weekend took place outside the powwow grounds, with Science North bringing their mobile planetarium to Pontiac School.
“This is wonderful, amazing,” said Mr. Scheidegger. “We really wanted to have an opportunity to come here and see this.” The couple first learned of the Wiikwemkoong Cultural Festival while travelling on the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry.