Saddle Lake dancer lands prestigious role in one of world's largest powwows
A teenager from Saddle Lake First Nation has been chosen as one of the lead dancers for an event considered to be one of the world's biggest powwows.
When she takes the spotlight, 17-year-old Tia Wood will be dancing in front of thousands of people at the annual Gathering of Nations Powwow in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
With the title "head young lady dancer," she'll have the honour of leading the grand entry of all dancers into the arena on both days of the event later this month.
"I've only dreamt of that kind of position," said Wood. "They choose only one young lady and one young man throughout all of Canada and the U.S."
Organizers expect tens of thousands of people to attend the event, which is a celebration of culture and traditions through Indigenous dance, music, arts and crafts.
"It feels pretty good. I didn't think I would ever get this opportunity," she said.
Raised in a family of singers and drummers at her home community of Saddle Lake, about two hours northeast of Edmonton, Wood has been singing and dancing since she could stand up.
But there were fears she might never be able to take the stage again after a horrific crash five years ago.
On the way to another powwow in the U.S., she was thrown from the truck she was travelling in.
"We just about lost Tia," said her mother, Cynthia Jim. "She had multiple fractures of ribs, broken vertebrae, a broken pelvis and collapsing lungs. She was in a coma."
Crediting Tia's fighting spirit for her remarkable recovery and dedication since then, Jim sees her daughter as an inspiration.
"I'm proud to the stars and back," she said.
And Wood is going to take her role well beyond the dancing during the powwow.
Tribute planned for missing and murdered Indigenous women
She wants to celebrate and empower Indigenous women.
"Native women are placed at the bottom of society with really no power. I want to help restore Indigenous women to places of honour," Wood said.
As part of the event, she's planning a special tribute to the more than 1,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.
She'll be joined by more than 150 dancers, all wearing red dresses, as she performs an old-style jingle dance in a traditional dress she made with her mom's help.
"I was inspired to do this because of the Red Dress Project. They hang red dresses in public places as a visual reminder of all the missing and murdered Indigenous women," she said.
Her mother will be one of those wearing a red dress alongside her in the dance, which she says is all about healing.
"Myself being a residential school survivor, this dancing and singing has had a tremendous [effect] on my wellness," her mom said.
As many as 3,000 traditional dancers and 50 drum groups will perform at the Gathering of Nations event, which is marking its 34th year.
While Wood has danced at many powwows before, the scale of this one is a bit daunting, but an experience she's thrilled to take in.
"It's pretty crazy," she said, adding that during the grand entry, "you can't even see the floor because there are so many dancers and singers."
The powwow takes place on April 28 and April 29 at the Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque.