Review: Manito Ahbee International Pow Wow @ RBC Convention Centre
Every year my intention is to leave the Manito Ahbee International Pow Wow at a respectable hour (9 p.m.), come home and write a stellar review. I have yet to be able to do that. I can’t leave until I’m exhausted and that doesn’t happen until around midnight. By the time I get home, it’s too late for me to write even a good quality review so I just go to sleep.
I really hate writing reviews the next day. By that time all the energy, excitement and passion I’ve experienced during an event is greatly diminished.
Here’s what I remember about May 20, 2017:
My family raced around the house trying to get ready. This was my 5 year old daughter’s first Pow Wow and I didn’t want her to miss the Grand Entry.
I’ll never forget her face when we walked in; her eyes were wide like saucers and her tiny mouth hung open for at least 20 minutes. I think the crowd and loud sounds may have scared her initially, but she adjusted.
I picked her up so she could see the drummers/singers and I stared at her face as she took it all in; she was mesmerized.
We weaved through the crowd towards the bleachers, her head darting this way and that, completely distracted by all the elaborate outfits.
Shortly after we sat down, the drums started and the dignitaries entered the room, followed by all the dancers.
As the Fancy Bustle dancers took the floor, my husband whispered to me “Wow, I can see why you didn’t want us to miss this.”
One of the things I like to do during the Grand Entry is to gaze just above the dancer’s heads. It feels like the floor is alive; like it’s rolling under the dancers’ feet, pushing them up and down in perfect harmony with the beat of the drum.
My experience with Pow Wows is that they’re marathons as opposed to sprints. Some of us (me) are better equipped for the marathon than others (my Family), therefore I was sitting alone shortly after the Grand Entry. However, one of the most wonderful things about sitting alone at a Pow Wow is that you’re never truly alone. Everyone I sat next to that day was friendly and eager to answer any questions I had.
During the Intertribal dances, I sat back and took everything in. I watched men dressed in strong and powerful outfits cradle their tiny babies in their arms.
I watched a mother braid her daughter’s long silky black hair and when she saw me staring, I smiled and she grinned back.
I watched the tiny tots dance and my heart swelled with pride like they were my own children. I don’t usually take pictures of children, but I asked the woman next to me if it was alright to take pictures and she said it was, so I ran down to the floor and captured a tender moment between a mother and her child.
After the tiny tots, non-Aboriginal kids from West St. Paul School took the floor dressed in traditional outfits. We were told they were learning about culture and made all their own outfits, right down to the moccasins.
There was a lot of talk at this Pow Wow about acknowledgement and reconciliation and I wondered what the Aboriginal crowd truly thought of this performance. I found it interesting because as a Caucasian girl growing up in Winnipeg, I never had this opportunity and I wondered if the world would have been a different place right now, if I/we did.
Some Aboriginal children joined the dancers and I almost cried while they all danced together. Maybe one day I’ll help my Daughter make her own Jingle Dress, but honestly, I’d be just fine not making one if it was decided that these traditions were too precious to share so openly. I’m acutely aware this is not my culture, but I’m intensely drawn to it with a mixture of deep-felt respect, appreciation and fascination.
The couples dance was beautiful and I was thrilled to see an elderly Jingle Dress dancer during the Golden Age Women’s Contest. I recognized her from last year and it was such a pleasure to see her dance again.
From what I can tell, these are not easy dances on the joints, particularly the knees. The fact the leaders and keepers of the traditions are still out there dancing, always impresses me and warms my heart.
I loved the youthful energy and flow of the Teen Girl’s Fancy Shawl dance, but right after the Junior Boys Fancy Bustle, I was ready to head out for dinner.
I went for sushi (because I’m worldly like that – heh) and then crashed at my friend Joel’s house. I was more tired than I thought because I didn’t get back to the Convention Centre until about 8 p.m. and completely missed the second Grand Entry.
While the announcers were presenting the remaining Indigenous Music Awards, a woman from Regina came and sat next to me. She offered me some of her mini donuts and we talked for the rest of the night.
She didn’t have a program, so I told her what was coming up and she answered all my questions. She highly recommended I stay for the Men’s Fancy Bustle Special. I told her it sounded interesting but I didn’t know if I’d be able to stay awake that long. As much as I love Pow Wows, I’ve never actually made it to the end of one.
A new Miss Manito Ahbee was crowned and then it was time for the adult dancers. I watched them all. The Junior Adult Women’s Fancy Shawl dancers twirled so fast and elegantly that I thought they might rise up at any moment and take flight.
Then it was time for the Mens Fancy Bustle Special. The woman from Regina congratulated me for staying awake and I thanked her and ran down to the floor. It was almost midnight and most of the media and crowd had already left. There I was, kneeling near the floor with my cell phone in my hand.
What happened next, I can only describe as intense. Brightly coloured feathers and ribbons filled the floor in a blur of chaos, the drummers/singers playing faster and faster, whipping the men into a frenzy. I was kneeling no more than two meters away from them and that frantic energy they emitted was a complete rush.
The Regina woman was right; it was my favourite part of the whole day. Ten dancers were chosen from the group to compete head to head. I watched as two men danced side by side, the drummers playing even faster than before and the men responding in a marvelous show of athleticism and talent.
And then I hit a brick wall. I was exhausted and I had to leave.
I fell asleep that night watching a colourful mosaic of beads and feathers dance against my closed eyelids, while the sound of Mother Earth pulsed through my heart.
TicketMOMster is a Rock and Jazz-loving Mom; single-handedly keeping Ticketmaster alive in Winnipeg. Follow her musical journey here: www.facebook.com/TicketMOMs