The rhythmic drums from drum groups Iron Mountain and Little Hawk combined with the swirl and ceremony of the sacred powwow captured hearts and minds Thursday at Okanagan College’s Kelowna campus.
Emcee Richard Jackson Jr. invited everyone to take part in the event, that attracted hundreds of people for this fourth annual Youth Exhibition Powwow.
“I’m seeing more people here every year,” Jackson said as he scanned the crowd.
James Coble, Aboriginal Access and Services coordinator, said the annual event is held in part to provide cross-cultural learning, but also to deepen understanding and relationships with local Aboriginal people.
“The students themselves really appreciate more public events like this because it helps them to feel more comfortable on campus,” Coble said.
Members from bands throughout the Okanagan Nation and into the Thompson and Merritt areas arrived for the event, which filled up the courtyard with colour, sounds, young children, elders, as well as visiting students from Kelowna Secondary School and throughout the Okanagan Valley.
“This was my third time dancing here,” said a beaming 14-year-old Nayden Brigham, a member of the Williams Lake band who now lives in West Kelowna.
The ceremony also honoured veterans with the presentation of the red Killed in Action flag, by flag bearer and Veteran Queen Bernice Albert, a member of the Thompson Nation.
“In 1991 I had the honour to represent veterans, and travelled to California where they presented us with this flag,” she said. “We had a black flag to honour those who served, but we didn’t have anything to honour those who were killed in action. This red flag represents those who died, were buried, are in our hospitals and in our jails. They are our fallen veterans.”
Attracting much attention, and requests for personal photographs, were Stan Jack, of the Westbank First Nation, and Carl McLeod from Merritt who took part in the Men’s Traditional Golden Age performance.
The event included booths featuring many Aboriginal wares, including hand-woven baskets and sage crafted by Minnie Kenoras, a member of the Neskonlith Band in Salmon Arm who regularly teaches a Living Off the Land course.
“I teach people hunting, fishing, and how to make baskets, like this berry basket,” she said. “I’ve done this kind of teaching all my life, and learned from my parents.”
The powwow included a social dance where everyone in the audience was invited to participate, underlining the meaning of the powwow – unity.
“People may not understand that powwows are not just for fun,” Coble said. “There is a deeper meaning.”