The Manito Ahbee Festival is in full swing this week in Winnipeg. The event marks the culmination of a major effort by organizers and volunteers who bring this celebration to life every year.
More than that, the festival represents a bold effort encouraging all people from all nations to come together in peace, harmony and understanding. Some say this kind of gathering is needed in a city, and country, where racism, intolerance and ignorance are still prevalent.
The Festival’s mission statement is clear: “Manito Ahbee is recognized as a leader in transforming relationships to share Indigenous culture and heritage with the world.”
This idea of sharing traditional knowledge and cultural understanding was evident several months before this week’s celebrations, when a unique Manito Ahbee fundraising event challenged many Winnipeggers to see and to know Aboriginal people in ways they had never done before.
It was dubbed “The Drum Calls Us All”, and like the popular Dancing with the Stars, where celebrities are paired with professional dancers in a competition, this event last spring featured pow wow dancers paired with executives from various companies and organizations in Winnipeg.
The result was an extremely entertaining evening of competitive pow wow dancing along with some dramatic learning curves for many of the non-Aboriginal participants.
The dancers included Royal Bank Vice President of Commercial Banking, Annette Sabourin, paired with mentor Andrea Redsky; Brenda Parsons who owns and operates All Nations Print Ltd. had Melanie Dean as her mentor; Bruce Hardy, President of Function Four Ltd. was with Elder Colin Mousseau; Director of Support Services for The Winnipeg Foundation, Darlene Ott, had Marlene McDougall as her mentor; Doug Anderson of the North West Company learned all about pow wow from Wes Nelson; Kelvin Shepherd, President of MTS was mentored by Garrett Henry; Larry Wandowich of Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries learned about traditional dance from Bartley Harris; Stefano Grande of the Downtown Winnipeg Biz was paired with mentor Joe Thompson; and Shanley Spence taught hoop dancing to Breakfast Television’s Courtney Ketchen and to the CEO of Native Communication Incorporated, Dave McLeod.
As one can see in the videos here, the competition was fierce. But far beyond this friendly competitive spirit, participants were rewarded with the opportunity to gain traditional knowledge and glean cultural understanding, giving them a new respect and admiration for their Aboriginal brothers and sisters.
“It was great to get to know so many new people,” said Darlene Darlene Ott of The Winnipeg Foundation. “For me the highlight of that was Marlene McDougall as my mentor.”
“A lot of it was working together and sharing our culture and being open minded and seeing other people, other nations partake in our culture and demonstrating that we’re working together to share who we are but also for the benefit of the future,” said mentor Marlene McDougall.
“We all go to pow wows but I don’t think everyone takes the time to learn the true meaning of the regalia and the dance itself and the spiritual meaning,” said Annette Sabourin of the Royal Bank of Canada. “And I think if we do, it will be that much more of a greater experience.”
Sabourin’s mentor was Andrea Redsky, who works for the Winnipeg School Division.
“The important thing,” said Redsky, “is to learn everything from protocols to the way that we enter on our Grand Entries, what we’re honouring there, the drums and the songs, and even those inter-tribal stuff because people who are non-Aboriginal we welcome you there, it is a space, a good space for people to come and learn. And we honour those people that come and we do mention them when they come and participate with us. I’m really honoured to be able to share those gifts with the community,” Redsky added.
The name itself, Manito Ahbee, which was gifted to the festival through ceremony, is connected to the sacred site of the same name. The Manito Ahbee site is one of the signicant traditional gathering spots in all of North America, located in the western Whiteshell area of Manitoba. The Ojibway word means “where the Creator sits”. The site is honoured by Aboriginal peoples across North America as a sacred place for all people. The name of the province, Manitoba, is itself derived from this sacred site.
“It is here, in the centre of Turtle Island, where we feel most connected with our Mother,” said Lisa Meeches, Executive Director of Manito Ahbee Festival. “It is here where we feel her heartbeat. All nations and all cultures use the drum to connect with the heartbeat of Mother Earth. We also use the drum in the spirit of healing to break down barriers and build community.”
The festival represents an opportunity for Manitobans and all visitors to experience the province as truly a ‘home for all people’, uniting residents and visitors in a spirit of celebration, honouring the Creator and the seven sacred teaching of love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility and truth. The first annual The Drum Calls Us All fundraiser for Manito Ahbee certainly went a long way to breaking down barriers and bringing all Manitobans together.