'Healing in our culture': Hundreds attend competitive powwow in Dartmouth

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Dancers are seen at the Mawita’jik Competition Powwow in Dartmouth, N.S. (Robert Guertin/CBC - image credit)
Dancers are seen at the Mawita’jik Competition Powwow in Dartmouth, N.S. (Robert Guertin/CBC - image credit)

Atlantic Canada's biggest competitive powwow is back this weekend in its first in-person celebration of Mi'kmaw culture since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The sounds of rhythmic drumming and singing were front and centre at the Mawita'jik Competition Pow Wow on Saturday at the Zatzman Sportsplex in Dartmouth, N.S., the largest competitive powwow east of Montreal.

Named after the Mi'kmaw term for "let us gather'' and hosted by the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre, the powwow's second day saw over 200 people in attendance. Friendship centre spokesperson Corinne MacLellan said the organization expects thousands of visitors will attend the event by the end of the weekend.

Garrett Gloade, one of the event co-ordinators, said in an interview the powwow has garnered local and international interest, with visitors and competitors coming from as far as North Dakota and Minnesota.

"It's great to bring visitors in to teach us these ways so we can learn from them and grow from this and overall connect again as a people, as Indigenous people," he said.

Unlike a traditional powwow, the energy at a competition powwow is a bit more "intense," Gloade added, with competitors vying for cash prizes totalling $87,000 in categories including singing and dancing.

Robert Guertin/CBC
Robert Guertin/CBC

"So when it comes to our drums, you're going to hear the best sound coming out of those drums. You're going to [get] the best out of the dancers. They're going to give it their all to bring something to the people," he said. "That's the intention behind it."

One of the contestants at the event, Simon Nevin, competed as a singer with the Wabanaki Confederacy, a group of men from Indigenous groups from across Atlantic Canada and the northeastern United States. Nevin said he enjoyed the spectacle of Indigenous performers coming together to showcase their culture.

"The atmosphere, the songs, the music, is what's going to get you," Nevin said.

Jonathan Beadle, a vendor at the event, echoed the sentiment. Beadle was stationed at the Mi'kma'ki Strong booth, selling items in the Mi'kmaq-inspired clothing line. Beadle was "touched" to see the powwow attract such a large crowd, he said, and he's looking forward to similar gatherings in the future.

"Big events like this excite me. It's something that I feel is needed more throughout the Maritimes," Beadle said. "It's where we find healing in our culture. It does the body and the mind good. I enjoy the fact that it's being showcased on such a prominent stage."

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