The organizers of a local powwow have come full circle from when they first started more than 25 years ago.
The Spirit of the People Powwow will be taking over Chilliwack secondary on Feb. 15 and Feb. 16. It’s the same location as where their first powwow was held, then called the Chilliwack Powwow, back in 1993.
The gym, with its bleachers, makes for an ideal location. The powwow was held there last year for the first time since its inception, and organizer Gary Abbott said the place was “phenomenal.”
“It is, by far, the best venue for our Family Day powwow.”
It’s the first powwow of the season for the Northwest region. They’re taking advantage of the long weekend – as both Valentine’s Day and Family Day fall on either side of the two-day event – by featuring some special dances.
The owl dance is one of them.
“When our people gathered, there weren’t a lot of social interactions,” Abbott said, explaining the history of the owl dance.
There was strict protocol, people couldn’t simply sit wherever they wanted and socialize with whomever they chose. The owl dance is a social interaction where couples can meet – traditionally, the woman asks the man to dance. If he refused, he would be fined and would have to pay the woman and her family.
“We still adhere to that law. If he refuses, he has to pay,” Abbott laughed.
There’s also the family team dance where three or more people all dance in sync doing the same routine and moving to the same rhythm.
Another special dance people will see at the Spirit of the People Powwow is the switch dance.
Switch dance is typically done by a husband and wife couple. Not only do they switch regalia, but they switch their dance routine as well. You’ll see women doing a men’s traditional dance and men doing a women’s fancy shawl dance, for example.
Other dance categories at the powwow include girls’ jingle dress, men’s grass, and men’s and women’s traditional.
There will be different drum groups there including host drum Wild River.
For those who have never been to a powwow before, Abbott has some advice.
“If you’re going to compliment a dancer, you don’t call it a costume. It’s regalia or outfit,” he said. “And if you want to take their picture, you ask their permission.”
Grand entry times are at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. both days.
“It is a grand entrance, sort of like a parade, to start the session of the powwow,” he explains.
There’s a specific order in which people and symbols come in to the grand entry. First the eagle staffs are brought in, followed by the flags. Veterans proceed next, followed by royalty, chiefs, elders, adults, teens and children.
There will be lots of food at the event. Chilliwack secondary’s staff and students will be running the concession and the profit from the concession goes right back to the powwow.
Additionally, there will be a free feast around 5:30 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.
“Because it is a traditional powwow, we have to feed the people. That’s why we do the feast,” Abbott said.
Last year, about 2,000 people attended the powwow each day, and that was with snowy conditions. This year, he’s expecting more people since there’s no snow in the forecast. People will be coming from across B.C., Alberta and Washington State.
There will also be many vendors selling various arts and crafts.
“Powwows are a gathering of all of our First Nations people across North America and it’s a place where we share our songs, our stories and our dance,” Abbott said. “Each dance has a different story and it’s often from a different region in North America.”
“That’s really what powwows are about, it’s bringing together all of our First Nations people and sharing our culture.”
The Spirit of the People Powwow runs Saturday, Feb. 15 and Sunday, Feb. 16 at Chilliwack secondary. Doors open around 8 a.m. Dancing starts at 1 p.m. and goes until about 11 p.m.
Admission is free, There will be a donation box at the door.