'The more the merrier': Manito Ahbee expected to draw thousands, part of busy weekend for Winnipeg's downtown

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From Manito Ahbee to spray pads to giant bugs, plenty to do in Winnipeg this May long weekend

The Winnipeg Jets game against the Vegas Golden Knights isn't the only event that will draw thousands to Winnipeg's downtown this weekend.

The Manito Ahbee Festival, which celebrates Indigenous arts, culture and music, gets underway in Winnipeg on Wednesday and is expected to bring 10,000 people to Winnipeg's downtown this weekend, according to organizers.

That's on top of the thousands expected for Sunday afternoon's Jets game against the Golden Knights.

"The more the merrier downtown, right? Winnipeg is also the hub of everything celebratory," said Manito Ahbee executive director Lisa Meeches.

The festival will kickoff its 13th year Wednesday with the lighting of a sacred fire at the Oodena Circle at The Forks at noon.

Manito Ahbee also features the Indigenous Music Awards, an international powwow, an Indigenous marketplace and trade show, and educational events.

"It's one of those really important tourism trademark events," said Meeches.

"It kicks off powwow season in this area, and it's a fairly large powwow in terms of magnitude and what it does for the powwow community."

The awards show Friday night will by hosted by CBC Music's Jarrett Martineau and feature 15 performances by artists including Tom Wilson, Ansley Simpson, Chase Manhattan with Theland Kicknosway, Indian City, and Pat Vegas of the band Redbone.

The powwow and marketplace, running Saturday and Sunday at the RBC Convention Centre, are expected to draw up to 10,000 visitors.

Golden Knights' Zach Whitecloud invited

On Sunday, those events will coincide with Game 5 of the NHL Western Conference final, which will see the Jets take on the Golden Knights at 2 p.m. at Bell MTS Centre, near the convention centre.

The outdoor whiteout street party that which closes streets around the arena is also expected to draw thousands, making for a very busy downtown.

Meeches said she's not worried about the influx of people causing any problems, and festival staff have been co-ordinating with the Downtown BIZ and the city to ensure there's adequate parking and access for festivalgoers.

Meeches said there are, of course, many big hockey fans in the Indigenous community and there will be televisions set up at Manito Ahbee so that people can watch the game between events.

An invite to the powwow has also been extended to Brandon-born Dakota player Zach Whitecloud, who plays for the Vegas Golden Knights.

"His family is very much [into] powwow, so hopefully he makes an appearance," said Meeches.

Festival expected to draw thousands to city

Meeches says Manito Ahbee draws about 15,000 people to events over its five days, and guests come from all over the continent. This year some travellers are coming from as far as China and New Zealand.

The festival's last economic impact study in 2013 estimated the event brings almost $1.3 million into the city.

The events are open to everyone and Meeches says you don't have to be Indigenous to take part.

"This powwow is symbolic that we're all in this together, this Earth is to be shared,"  she said.

"You don't have to be Indigenous to celebrate the Earth."

She says the powwow's emcees are very good at explaining the dances and the customs that go along with the powwow, and the printed program will guide newcomers through proper etiquette.

The Indigenous Music Awards at the Club Regent Event Centre on Friday are sold out, but tickets to other events are still available online or at the door.

The events will also be streamed online at PowWows.com, which Meeches says has allowed people from nearly 60 countries to take part in the past.