CANUPAWAKPA — Bringing nation members together through the solid beat of drums and traditional songs, Canupawakpa Dakota Nation’s One Day Contest Wacipi was a welcomed return to normal for dancers.
Don Smoke and his daughter Sophia Smoke travelled from Dakota Plains First Nation, located 36 kilometres south of Portage la Prairie, to attend the Canupawakpa celebration on Aug. 4.
Sophia said it was great to be back at powwow performing the jingle dance. The event marked the second powwow for the father-daughter duo this summer, after a year of no dancing in 2020.
“It’s amazing, after the whole pandemic and making it shut down, a lot of our communities were very highly stressed and there were a lot more social issues within our community, they were very heightened,” Don said. “A powwow is a way of healing for us.”
Sophia said the return to powwow felt like getting her life and identity back. For years, she has spent every weekend of the summer participating in powwows.
“It’s what my life had been rooted in and what my identity has been rooted in. I’m overjoyed to be back.”
The regalia worn by the father and daughter is strikingly linked, featuring similar beadwork designs crafted by Don’s mother Donna Pratt and other family members.
“We have a lot of families and friends that bead and sew so everybody chips in,” Don said with a smile.
It is powerful knowing these connections to family are present during each dance. Don highlighted his moccasins created by his auntie who died last year as an example.
“When I said my respects, I told her I was going to dance hard in these,” Don said. “I’m keeping them forever.”
He added that full regalia is not needed to participate in the powwow circle.
Wacipi serves as a great opportunity to connect, ask questions about the dances and try new things, Sophia said.
“It’s for everybody; dance and enjoy yourself,” Don said.
Norbert Tanner, a Waywayseecappo First Nation member, participated in the Canupawakpa Grand Entry, walking side-by-side with fellow dancers.
“The Grand Entry is very important when all the dancers come in to honour each dancer. The families are watching and they’re proud of each dancer. The drums are on and represent the heartbeat of human beings, Mother Earth and even the creators,” Tanner said. “The drum brings all people together. When you hear the drum far away you go to it.”
Tanner has been attending as many powwows as possible over the summer following an eventless 2020.
He missed in-person powwows but appreciated the creativity of different nations in holding online events to bring dancers together and keep the community connected.
“We even had a chance to dance in videos and show other people what we were doing. That’s how we kept in touch with people all over the States and Canada,” Tanner said. “It’s like a powwow family.”
Tanner showed off his Grass Dance during the wacipi, a dance he has been practising for years.
“All our dances are from nature. The Grass Dance ... used to be warriors that went and scouted an area where they can have a ceremony, powwow, gathering or celebration,” Tanner said. “It’s a healing dance.”
The dancers represent grass, their careful movements in the powwow circle working to capture the visual of grass swaying in the wind.
Nowadays, powwows show the balance many Indigenous peoples have struck between traditional ways of life and modern expectations of mainstream society.
Tanner was placed in a residential school for 12 years at the age of seven. His parents had no choice but to see him taken away. It’s a heartbreaking situation, he said, because he was one of more than 150,000 children removed and taken far away from his family. He said he often felt separated from his culture and missed many experiences as a youth in residential school.
He remains grateful he was able to reconnect with his culture once he returned to his community, including the beauty of regalia and dancing.
“I got home and got to dancing. It was inside, but I put it aside while I went into the mainstream way of living. But you get it [dance] back so fast because that’s the way you were brought up,” Tanner said.
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun