The spectacle of colour, music and dance that is the Grand River Champion of Champions Pow Wow returns to Six Nations this weekend after a three-year hiatus.
“It’s exciting and a lot of work. Everything’s new for us this year,” said Charlene Bomberry, one of about 20 volunteer organizers of the powwow, which moves to Ohsweken Speedway after 40 years at Chiefswood Park.
“There is more space and the ground is much more level,” Bomberry said of the new venue, adding that Chiefswood “just became too small for us.”
Being the first pandemic-era powwow, Bomberry said it is hard to predict this year’s attendance. Past weekends have attracted well over 10,000 people from across Canada and the United States.
The suspense will build early Saturday as groups start to arrive and register for the two-day competition, which normally features around 300 dancers in colourful regalia, as well as several hundred singers and drummers, competing for cash prizes and a championship trophy.
Powwow attendees “will experience and learn about our culture,” Bomberry said, an immersion that includes traditional Indigenous food and handicraft vendors.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “Everybody always has a good time at a powwow.”
Bomberry said powwow dance styles such as traditional, fancy, grass and jingle dress are not typically part of Haudenosaunee culture.
“I imagine that there are some people here (on Six Nations) who haven’t seen this type of dancing,” she said. “So everyone learns about it.”
Bomberry said people who have never experienced a powwow need not be intimidated. Just listen to the emcees, who will explain the significance of each dance and let spectators know when photography is appropriate.
A dancer herself, Bomberry will be too busy behind the scenes to compete at the speedway.
“Not this weekend,” she said with a laugh. “I was dancing last weekend and I’ll dance next week, but I’m going to be working this weekend.”
But she will make time to reconnect with fellow dancers after three long years apart.
“These last few powwows so far this summer have been very emotional for a lot of people,” she said.
“Everybody’s getting to visit again and catch up on each other’s lives.”
Grand River Champion of Champions Pow Wow
July 23 and 24
Ohsweken Speedway — 1987 Chiefswood Road (near Fifth Line)
Gates open 10 a.m.
Daily admission $10; weekend pass $15; children $2
If rain: Six Nations Sports & Cultural Memorial Centre — 1738 Fourth Line, Ohsweken
Limited seating available. Lawn chairs encouraged.
Photography welcome, but follow the emcee’s cues.
No pets allowed, except for service dogs.
Alcohol and drugs prohibited.
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator