For 16-year-old superstar athlete Aiyana Hart, Manito Ahbee Festival is a way of life.
“It’s been great and I’ve been in this ever since I was young. It’s a lifestyle,” says Ms. Hart, who is the 2017 Manitoba Aboriginal Sports and Recreation Council’s Athlete of the Year.
Manito Ahbee Festival is a celebration, a place to learn about Indigenous culture and heritage, an event that unifies, educates and inspires.
Aiyana’s entire family is involved with Manito Ahbee, and she’s been attending the festival for as long as she can remember. Learning about her Indigenous culture, particularly the Seven Sacred Teachings, has inspired her as a person, and as an athlete.
“It made me want to go represent… the Native kids who can’t play or participate in sports. It makes me want to strive more and more, and to be a better athlete.”
Manito Ahbee Festival features several elements and events, including the Indigenous Music Awards, a music conference, a marketplace and trade show, art expo and challenge, and an International Pow Wow. This year marked the four day festival’s 12th anniversary.
Aiyana’s mother Candice Hart is the Pow Wow Coordinator, her father Derek Hart runs the MTS Youth Education Day, and her older brother Tyler Hart works security. Aiyana herself has volunteered in many roles, including supporting Elders.
Attending Manito Ahbee is a good way to learn more about Indigenous culture for everyone – whether you’re Indigenous or not.
“Everybody is welcome to come in and participate,” Ms. Candice Hart says. “One year we had a Chinese couple sitting in our Elders’ section and it was just so amazing to see them sitting there because that’s what we’re striving for: other cultures to come and participate and learn about our culture. It’s a beautiful culture.”
The pow wow, which draws up to 900 participants annually, is a time for people to gather together, reconnect and celebrate.
“You can just feel the energy. Everybody wants to dance and get up and enjoy seeing family and friends,” Candice says. “We find people connect that have been lost for many years, like ’60s Scoop. A lot of [Indigenous] people have not been brought up in the culture so once they start hearing about these big gatherings, and find out that family members are going there, it’s so easy to find somebody who knows somebody, somehow in our community.”
Attending a pow wow can be emotional for many.
“Being exposed to pow wow, the drum is the heartbeat of our nation. And hearing that drum alone, it brings you to tears, especially for people that have not been exposed to their own culture,” Candice says.
The festival helps people along their journey of reconciliation, adds festival Operations Manager Sandy Fox.
“Because Indigenous people and the culture was stifled for so many years, they weren’t allowed to practice their dance, their songs, their culture… As a non-Aboriginal person I’m obviously appalled by the fact the government could go in and take children from families… There’s a lot of healing that has to go on. And our festival is a celebration, it’s healing for the people, but it’s a celebration that, ‘Now we can do this and be proud of it and invite other people to come in and join us,’” Ms. Fox says.
Reconciliation is different for everyone, and each person may be at a different place in that journey. Candice is at a place where she has forgiven and now wants to help others do the same.
“I’m already on my journey of trying to help everybody else look beyond the horizon. We’ve always raised our kids in a traditional environment so they know the ceremonies, they know what’s out there and that everybody’s equal… the Seven Teachings and to live by the medicine wheel. Sometimes it’s hard but we… try and help everybody else.”
This year, The Winnipeg Foundation made a grant to support the Reconciliation Through Art program, which involves both an art expo and an art challenge. For the challenge, two groups of 10 artists participated, and the pieces were voted on by the public.
Reconciliation Through Art’s intent was to provide a means of educating and communicating the Residential School experience, through reviving, creating and honouring Indigenous traditions and art disciplines, with the message of conciliation and reconciliation.
“For every artist it’s different, it’s their vision or their feelings or what reconciliation means to them because everybody deals with it differently,” Sandy says. “It’s not [only] Indigenous people that can join the art challenge because we want to make it all inclusive.”
In the past, The Foundation’s grants have supported Elders’ participation, including a hospitality suite.
“Our Elders play a huge role in our festival. They guide us on what needs to be done, what should be done, and what shouldn’t be done,” Candice says. “I’ve always followed my elders and tried to help the best way I can and treat them the best we can. Our priority is taking care of them because they took care of us, and in the end, are still taking care of us.”
This story is featured in Spring/Summer edition of The Winnipeg Foundation’s Working Together magazine.