by Isabel Mosseler

Mindy Martel is really pleased with how the 31st Nipissing First Nation Tradition Pow Wow unfolded this past weekend, Aug. 31 to Sept. 1. As coordinator for this year’s event, after being an assistant in 2018, she had to contend with a move to Garden Village as a result of spring flooding and other issues on the traditional grounds at Jocko Point. Martel had a lot of help from all directions, including a beautiful weekend of sunny weather, her advisor Glenna Beaucage, a really well laid out grounds with lots of seating, great space for vendors, generous parking and accessibility, and almost 300 dancers and 8 drums over the two days.

The pow wow went from one high point to another, with specials honouring different families, remembering long-time dancer Ernie Decheno who died this past year, and a very large focus on language revival. The theme this year was Gaa-Miingooyan Enyweng – The Language That Was Given to Us.

On Saturday, Anishnabemowin language teacher Tory Fisher, along with one of his learners Brooklyn Sawyer, gave an impassioned talk about the importance of learning the language as part of cultural integrity. Fisher addressed the difficulties faced by First Nations youth as a result of the active suppression of indigenous languages by the dominant society, with stories of how children in residential schools were severely punished for speaking Anishinabemowin, and how, as the survivors became parents, they discouraged their own children from learning the language in hopes of acceptance. Brooklyn Sawyer expressed her gratitude for those who took up the challenge to revive the language and how important it was to her, as a young person, to discover the key elements of the culture she was born into embedded in the language she is learning. She particularly thanked her language mentors Blair Beaucage and Tory Fisher. A group of Elders in Garden Village who are part of the language learning process were invited for a special dance in honour of the work they are engaged in. 

This year, once again, Bob Goulais acted as MC, and in his welcoming style helped guests understand the history of the different styles of dance, the protocol of pow wow, when to take pictures and when not to, peppering his addresses with historical references, good humoured jokes, and many words of welcome for all guests. In the Grand Entry on Saturday, several dignitaries were welcomed, including Mayor Joanne Savage of West Nipissing, and MP Anthony Rota of Nipissing. 

One very moving special dance on Saturday was held in memory of Ernie Decheno, a well-known men’s traditional dancer who was on the pow wow circuit for many years. The Decheno family asked all the Men’s Traditional dancers to compete for prize money in honour of Ernie, with the first prize going to Ned Benson. “I danced along with Ernie many times during his time on the pow wow trail, so this was special to me,” wrote Benson on social media.

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