Kootenay powwow organizers won't let vandalism stop festivities

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Kootenay powwow organizers won't let vandalism stop festivities

Kootenay powwow organizers won't let vandalism stop festivities

Organizers of a youth powwow in B.C.'s Kootenay region are determined to go forward after vandals tore apart regalia created for the event.

The Aboriginal Education program at Erickson Elementary School near Creston, B.C., has 57 kids enrolled at the school.

They represent a cross section of First Nations including Haida, Haisla, Cree, Metis, Inuit and many others.

The Youth Powwow is the highlight of the school year and many of the kids sacrifice recess, lunch hours and after school time to make their outfits.

Nyla Perry, 10, who knew little of her Haisla and Haida background before she enrolled in the program, was one of those students.

As part of the the program, Perry cut material and hand-stitched a skirt, shawl and moccasins for the annual event scheduled for May 19.

It took her more than a year to make the outfit she planned to dance in.

"I'm not really sure why, but it makes me feel proud of who I am, and the little stitch marks say that nobody can tear us down, and we are a really strong group," said Perry.

"Some of them have been working on them for years, since Grade 4. They work so hard," said Nyla's mother Anita Perry.

'It was devastating'

Last Thursday, a week before the powwow, staff at the school noticed some of the regalia had been vandalized.

The material is kept in the open near the library and someone had slashed skirts and shirts, cut holes in outfits and cut up the moccasins. 

"We have shawls that were slashed with scissors and jagged holes in things. One girl's shawl, we can put our hand right through the middle," said Aboriginal Education youth worker Janet Zarchukoff.

"It was devastating as we went through each piece."

Nyla, who had spent so much time working on her outfit, was dismayed.

"When I saw it, I honestly felt like I couldn't breath," she said.

But the kids, their parents and staff at Erickson Elementary soon got over the shock and got to work, repairing the vandalized regalia in time for today's powwow. 

Parents and teachers said the act of vandalism has brought them closer.

"At first, understandably, everybody was upset. The really awesome part is how everybody came together. The kids started helping each other," said Perry.

"For something that was intended as a very negative thing, the power of the positive was just overwhelming," said Zarchukoff.

On Friday, Nyla will proudly dance at the powwow in her stitched regalia and she says she'll think about the person who vandalized her work.

"When we do the healing dance, I hope they feel better inside."

With files from Bob Keating