Wikwemikong traditional powwows bring communities together

A shawl dancer makes her way around the Thunderbird Park powwow arena during the Kaboni traditional powwow. photo by Michael Erskine

WIKWEMIKONG—The annual Wikwemikong Cultural Heritage Festival (aka the Wikwemikong Powwow) is one of the highlights of the Island powwow scene, taking place during the hurly burly hectic pace of the August long weekend, but to really find the spirit of what the powwow means to communities it is hard to top the traditional powwows such as the Kaboni Traditional Powwow “Naagdawenmaadaa Shkakimik-Kwe,” one of several held on alternating years in the Wikwemikong Unceded Territories.

It is a time when community members welcome back expatriates, folks who have travelled far afield to seek economic and educational opportunities.

Vendor Patricia Eshkibok, a Wikwemikong band member who currently lives and works in Montreal, comes home to visit her community and sells her custom jewellery at the traditional powwows.

“I have always loved jewellery,” she laughs. “Finally a friend told me about a class and I signed up.”

It wasn’t an immediate success, she admitted. “The first pieces I created didn’t sell. I couldn’t understand why.” Now, with several years of design experience under her belt, and with an inventory that sells briskly, she looks back at those earlier creations and cringes. “When you first start, you think everything you do is great,” she said. “I guess like everything else, it takes time.”

Further down the line of booths is Georgina Toulouse. Ms. Toulouse was commissioned a couple of years ago to produce a statue in memory of the great Shawnee warrior Tecumseh at Walpole Island, where she now makes her home. That statue was unveiled last year, standing over the memorial cairn said to contain Tecumseh’s bones.

“Finally the community got to see it when it’s completed,” said Ms. Toulouse of the opening. “It was a lot of work and it’s a lot of stress off my shoulders now. Everybody is enjoying it.”

Tecumseh is probably the most unsung of Canadian heroes from the War of 1812. It is Tecumseh and his warriors from across Turtle Island that are credited with keeping Canada free from American invasion.

Tecumseh’s remains were made public in the 1930s, and Walpole Island veterans raised funds to construct a cairn for the great chief’s remains. Walpole Island Soldiers’ Club had also planned a statue that was never completed. Thanks to the efforts of Ms. Toulouse that statue now graces the top of the Veteran’s Memorial in Walpole Island.

Traversing the grounds of Thunderbird Park (the traditional powwows take place in the Village of Wikwemikong for logistical and maintenance purposes) one is greeted by the laughter of children chasing each other merrily about bedecked in their regalia and dance finery and doted over by parents, guardians and extended family.

Host Drum for the Kaboni Traditional Powwow was Young Biisineh, while emcee duties were shared by stalwart moderators Chris Pheasant and Danny Fox. The arena director was Robert Stoneypoint, head veteran Wayne Pitawanakwat, head female elder was Rose Corbiere and Head Male Elder was Henry Eshkibok. Head dancers were chosen daily.

Admission to the traditional powwows is free and are open to everyone to attend, but alcohol and drugs are strictly forbidden. These are the penultimate family events.