Lennox Island First Nation family missing traditional powwows

·3 min read

Powwows are just one of the numerous celebrations to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and for one family from Lennox Island First Nation, going without has been a challenge.

According to Julie Pellissier-Lush, it's been over a year now since her family has been able to gather with the rest of the community in its traditional way.

"We gather in the spring to celebrate surviving the winter ... and tell stories and come together," she said.

"And at the same time, we do suffer our losses during the winter. And it's also a time to come together ... and remember those that we've lost throughout the year."

A different summer

Back in March, Julie said she thought the pandemic would pass in time to either continue the tradition normally or with a few adjustments.

"At the beginning of it, we thought that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel way before now," she said.

Tony Davis/CBC News
Tony Davis/CBC News

But come late May, Julie said powwows were cancelled.

"We have a lot of our elders there and it just would not be good to jeopardize our community in that way," she said.

"We all [realized] that this was not going to be the same kind of summer that we've had before."

'Very difficult'

Richard Pellissier-Lush, Julie's son, last danced at a powwow before the pandemic hit.

"For us not to have that aspect in our lives, and that moment of gathering with our family and our communities, it was very difficult for a lot of different community members," he said.

"Particularly, the ones that are isolated by themselves."

Tony Davis/CBC News
Tony Davis/CBC News

Because the family lives off-reserve, Richard said, even if Lennox Island First Nation were to hold a powwow he is not sure they would be able to attend.

"Whenever we went to the first lockdown, Lennox Island completely shut down. There [were] no visitors allowed and they just shut down entirely," he said.

"We're not quite in the bubble for there."

"Just missing the entire thing'

Some powwows have been held virtually over the past few months and other small in-person celebrations have taken place.

In an email to CBC News, the province said powwows are classified as an organized gathering meaning an operational plan must be submitted and up to 50 people are allowed to attend.

There are also restrictions around "high-risk activities" like singing, said the province. If the event is held inside, a four-metre distance is expected between people.

And while the Pellissier-Lush family said they agree with the decision to stop the celebrations, Julie said it's been especially hard for those who were preparing to participate for the first time.

"I think of all those young people who have dedicated that time for their tradition, for their culture or for their history. And they haven't been able to do it," she said. "It makes me sad."

But as COVID-19 vaccines get rolled out across the province, Julie and Richard said they are hopeful that in-person powwows will soon return.

"It's just overall a great experience. And I think we're just missing the entire thing. So hopefully this next year we were able to do it again," said Richard. "But again, it's all due to safety precautions. So we'll see."

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