Indigenous people in New Brunswick celebrated the start of powwow season in the province Saturday in Welamakotuk, also known as Oromocto First Nation.
It was a welcomed return for the cultural event after many were either reduced in size or cancelled last year because of the pandemic.
The anticipation of being able to welcome hundreds of people onto the powwow grounds could be felt in the energy of the crowd.
Welamakotuk Chief Shelley Sabattis said the turnout was remarkable.
"I see a lot of my non-native friends, a lot of people from neighbouring communities. That just makes me feel like they have respect for us," she said.
Close to normal
Sabattis said she's relieved that things are closer to normal this year.
"Language, culture, traditional teachings," she said. "Powwows are like one of the biggest celebrations, one of the biggest ceremonies that gathers everyone together — family, friends, cousins."
People who attended the powwow were glad to be back together again.
Pamela Nicholas is from Neqotkuk, or Tobique First Nation, and was moved by the large turnout.
"Just to hear the drum, it's just unbelievable," she said. "It just resonates in your heart."
Mourning in celebration
The powwow comes after July 1 events that were held to honour the growing number of children who have been found in unmarked graves at former residential schools in the country.
Nicholas said bringing the community together to celebrate Indigenous culture was important to help with the grieving process.
And although the day was upbeat, there were still heavy hearts on the powwow grounds.
"It really helps to see a lot of people still wearing the orange, and recognizing," she said. "I still think that there's going to be some very sad days in the future."
Sabattis said as much as the powwow is about celebrating, it was also a reminder about a painful past.
"It's a day of mourning, of grieving — reflection," she said.
She said her grandmother was taken to a residential school at the age of three.
"She grew up learning that style of life," she said, adding that her grandmother returned to the community when she was 16.
Seeing all the kids at the powwow made Sabattis emotional, but also hopeful.
"The children in the residential schools, in the unmarked graves, I feel like our kids are living their spirit."