Festive mood at Kanesatake's powwow

·5 min read

Powwow dancer Delbert Sampson beamed with pride as he described sharing the arena with his 13-year-old grandson, Kruze Delormier, at the Kanehsatake Pow Wow.

“It makes my heart feel good to have my grandson out there with me,” said Sampson, a member of the Shuswap Nation.

“We’re supposed to pass our traditions on to the grandchildren. Every little bit we know, we have to pass down to the next generation,” he said.

He believes sharing these ceremonies, dances, and other traditional ways can be a source of self-esteem for young Onkwehón:we like Delormier, who has danced almost since he could walk.

A spirit of sharing underpinned the lively event as dancers, drummers, singers, vendors, and attendees of all backgrounds packed the grounds for a weekend of cultural celebration and learning from August 26-28.

“To me, it’s about interacting with everybody, no matter what nationality, where you come from, what your background is,” said Shirley Bonspille, who helped organize the powwow. “It’s just about welcoming and seeing what we’re all about.”

Bonspille worked the door, welcoming throngs of attendees thrilled to participate in the first Kanehsatake powwow since the pandemic began.

“It’s an awesome turnout, awesome for returning back,” she said. “It’s overwhelming. I’m shocked, and I’m loving it.”

Organizer Mark Bonspille noticed people staying longer than usual, something he attributes to people’s joy in seeing the event come back.

“It’s just something for the community to have and look forward to on a positive note, take all the negativity away and look at something positive,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter who shows up, how many show up, as long as it’s a gathering - as long as people show up and have fun and enjoy themselves.”

“We’re just here doing our thing, and the spirits allow us to continue on the tradition. Everything’s going exactly as it should be,” said Kahnawa’kehró:non Owen Mayo, who did double duty as MC and arena director.

“It’s quite an honour,” he said. “It’s incredible to be involved with powwows so long that I got the knowledge and learned from people throughout Turtle Island to be able to share and to help with powwows now.”

Mayo, himself an Iroquois smoke dancer, has travelled to some of the continent’s largest powwows.

“It’s incredible just to see old friends, meet new people, and just to celebrate life. That’s what a powwow’s all about, just a celebration.”

“A lot of people can draw some spiritual strength from the whole event,” said Pat Tehasennake Gelinas of Reviving Kanehsatake Radio (RKR). The event was broadcast live on the station, in part to ensure the community’s elders were able to take part even if they could not attend in person.

“The whole goal of the radio station is to promote language and culture,” said station project manager Syd Karahkohare Gaspe.

Gaspe believes that Kanesatake has room for two powwows - last weekend’s event was the second of the year for Kanesatake after the Land Back Powwow, put on by a different organizer, opened the season.

“It’s non-commercial. It’s more traditional,” said Gelinas about the Kanehsatake Annual Pow Wow. “It’s a different spirit as opposed to competitive powwows, where there are cash prizes. That changes the energy.”

While some Indigenous and non-Indigenous attendees came from far-flung places, many locals were also in the mix.

“It’s actually just next door to my house, so I’ve got to come,” said Kanehsata’kehró:non Nicholas Chene. “I’m just enjoying the moment, sharing the pleasure with everybody around here and throughout different nations. It’s a big, nice gathering - positive vibes everywhere.

“It’s nice to see people coming to Kanesatake, which is kind of rare,” he said. “It’s overall very positive.”

Some attendees came without much foreknowledge of Indigenous communities but with an appetite to learn.

“I was looking forward to looking around because I’ve been here in Quebec for about 23 years, and I actually don’t know anything about Indigenous people,” said Birame Ndongo, whose wife suggested the event.

“I actually believe that I’m in their country, not in Canada, so I’m here to try to connect, to learn more,” he said.

The vendors are also an important part of the powwow, and a variety of tents dotted the edges of the grounds.

Lee Thomas began her business inadvertently, making clothes for herself and her children as a hobby, but pretty soon her creations caught the eyes of neighbours. Her pastime morphed into Warrior Wear, which saw success as a vendor at this year’s Echoes of a Proud Nation Pow Wow in Kahnawake.

“We did really amazing, and we had a lot of support, so we tried this powwow. It’s beautiful,” Thomas said.

There was also a spate of food and drink on offer.

“Everything you need, everything you want, it’s here, traditional or not,” said Shirley Bonspille, who noted the walleye, fish nuggets, corn on the cob, and particularly the fresh lemonade, which she said was the best she’d ever had.

Several Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) chiefs were also present to share in the festivities.

“I think it’s great, not only for our community, but our sister communities are here also, and our outside communities, non-Indigenous. It’s great to see everybody come together,” said MCK chief Valerie Bonspille, who was present to raise funds for the recreation department.

“I’m still a little concerned about the whole COVID thing, personally,” said MCK chief Brant Etienne, who leads the health and social portfolio and pitched in at the powwow by working the door.

“Events like this are always nexus points for spread, so that does concern me, but it is nice to have something to go to where there’s people again.”

He said that while large outbreaks could be a reason to reconsider mass activities like this one, he is pleased Kanesata’kehró:non once again have the chance to coalesce around an important family-friendly community event.

“It’s a chance for everybody to get together. We don’t have a lot of stuff like this,” he said.


Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door