How Do First Nations People Celebrate Indigenous Culture?

Powwow in Kamloops 2012

On the long weekend in August, visitors from all over come to Kamloops to experience the Kamloopa Powwow, held for three days during the first weekend of the eighth month. This is an aboriginal dancing and drumming competition, and a celebration of indigenous culture and heritage in North America. Dancers and drummers flock from all over Western Canada and United States, to dance in the hot sunny grasslands at the confluence of the North and South Thompson Rivers, and vie for prize purses in each category.

During this weekend, the land near the old Saint Joseph Residential School at the foot of Mount Paul and Mount Peter becomes a campground, with tents, RVs and tipis filling the flatlands. The sun beats the land into dust. It hasn't rained for months. Below the hillsides where bunch grasses yellow, the parking lot attendants wear cotton bandanas in triangles beneath dark glasses to keep the merciless dust from caking their throats.

Women dancers take the field at Kamloopa Pow Wow 2012.
Women dancers take the field at Kamloopa Pow Wow 2012. | Source
Kamloopa Pow Wow campsite, where the Yellowhead highway 5 from Jasper crosses the South Thompson River.
Kamloopa Pow Wow campsite, where the Yellowhead highway 5 from Jasper crosses the South Thompson River. | Source

Kamloopa Pow Wow site

show route and directions
A markerSecwepemc Museum and Heritage Park, Kamloops BC -
Secwepemc Museum & Heritage Park, Southern Yellowhead Hwy, Kamloops, BC V2H 1H1, Canada
[get directions]

B markerJasper, Alberta -
Jasper, AB T0E, Canada
[get directions]

Camping in traditional and modern styles
Camping in traditional and modern styles | Source
Mount Paul, Kamloops, BC
Mount Paul, Kamloops, BC | Source

Indian Residential Schools



This wasn't always a site of celebration. For years from 1893 until 1977, Saint Joseph Residential school was one of a series of Indian Residential Schools set up by the government of Canada and operated by various religious orders. Required by law to attend the schools, children were forcibly removed from their families and brought to the schools, where they were forbidden to speak their Secwepemc language or practice their customs or spirituality. They were indoctrinated in Christian practices, received little numeracy or literacy instruction, and spent a large part of each day in unpaid domestic, industrial or agricultural labour. Brothers and sisters were separated. Punishments were harsh, cruel and corporal. Food was inadequate, sickness common, sexual abuse rampant, and suicides frequent.


St. Joseph's Indian Residential School

St. Joseph's Indian Residential School closed in 1964, and the building now houses T'Kemlups Band Offices and the cultural heritage museum.
St. Joseph's Indian Residential School closed in 1964, and the building now houses T'Kemlups Band Offices and the cultural heritage museum. | Source

Aboriginal Legend of the Two Wolves

Today beside the entrance to the old Saint Joseph School building, now the Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park, next to the old photographs of students at the school, the cases of beaded moccasins and historic tools, and the displays of traditional food and medicine plants used in the local Secwepemc First Nation culture, there is a small plaque on the wall telling this ancient first nations teaching story:

An old man was teaching his young grandson about life.

"Inside each one of us," the old man said, "there are two wolves. One is selfishness, greed, anger, spite, jealousy, hatred and fear. The other is kindness, generosity, forgiveness, friendship, love, joy and peace. These two wolves are both very strong. They are both very hungry, and they are always fighting."

The young boy looked up into his grandfather's dark, quiet eyes.

"Which one wins?" he asked eagerly.

"The one you feed."

The Residential School System


The residential school system left a mark on Canadian First Nations that still influences the nation's relationship with its aboriginal people. In recent years community groups have begun working to help residential school survivors and their descendants cope with the inter-generational impact, and to help non-aboriginal Canadians understand what happened and how this colonial form of ethnic cleansing caused such suffering. For more information and lesson plans about this, check the Indian Residential School Survivors website.


Since the residential schools have closed, individual bands have taken over the education of their own children, enrolling them in band-controlled schools in their community, using national curricula with integrated First Nations culture, language, history and values. Wherever possible, and in increasing numbers, teachers are band members, and language teachers are elders who have retained their native language.


The shadow of the residential school experience still falls on nearly every First Nations family and community in Canada.
The shadow of the residential school experience still falls on nearly every First Nations family and community in Canada. | Source
Source
Sk'elup School of Excellence is now the band-controlled school, while the old Saint Joseph Residential school has been turned into a museum with archives, photographs, displays of traditional tools and costumes, and an ethnobotanical garden.
Sk'elup School of Excellence is now the band-controlled school, while the old Saint Joseph Residential school has been turned into a museum with archives, photographs, displays of traditional tools and costumes, and an ethnobotanical garden. | Source
The verandah shades the south windows of the Sk'elup School of Excellence library, facing east toward the old St Joseph Indian Residential School.
The verandah shades the south windows of the Sk'elup School of Excellence library, facing east toward the old St Joseph Indian Residential School. | Source

Kamloopa Pow Wow

When dancers and drummers come together in traditional regalia at the site of twin rivers at the foot of twin mountains that have been a sacred meeting ground for their people for thousands of years, they are not performing for tourists. Although all members of the public are welcome, non-aboriginals are in the minority in the crowd. Smells of smoked salmon and bannock mix with hot dogs, children sip Slushies or smokey tea, and cousins play in the crowd, spraying each other with water guns on the hot August afternoon. In all the air of festivity and fun, there is a celebration of the survival of the human spirit as powwows now catalyze pride and not shame in First Nations cultural heritage, and strengthen families.


Families and friends meet up and reconnect at Kamloopa Powwow.

After the dance, young dancer finds his family.  His bustle and headdress are Eagle feathers.  In Canada, eagles are protected birds, and only First Nations people are allowed to possess them without heavy fines.
After the dance, young dancer finds his family. His bustle and headdress are Eagle feathers. In Canada, eagles are protected birds, and only First Nations people are allowed to possess them without heavy fines. | Source
You did a good job, big brother!
You did a good job, big brother! | Source

The Eagle Commemorates Residential School survivors

The Eagle is a bird of the Grandfathers, a voice of spirit and guidance in First Nations Stories and spiritual practices.  Often Eagles soar in the circling updrafts above Mount Paul.
The Eagle is a bird of the Grandfathers, a voice of spirit and guidance in First Nations Stories and spiritual practices. Often Eagles soar in the circling updrafts above Mount Paul. | Source
The Eagle guards a gateway.
The Eagle guards a gateway. | Source
Cariboo guards the entrance.
Cariboo guards the entrance. | Source

How the Eagle Feather Stopped the Canadian Parliament

In 1990, Elijah Harper, a member of the Manitoba legislature, blocked the passage of a constitutional amendment called the Meech Lake Accord by holding up an eagle feather in the provincial parliament chamber.

The Meech Lake Accord was a negotiation that would have allowed the Province of Quebec to sign the Canada Act of 1982. This was an act of parliament that had repatriated the Canadian constitution from Britain, but it had been done without the consent of the province of Quebec because there was no acceptable mechanism that would allow the government of Canada to amend its own constitution and at the same time protect Quebec's desire for some cultural autonomy and guarantee protection for its French language and heritage within the predominantly English-speaking Canadian Federation.

Harper, a former Band Chief for his Red Sucker Lake Band (1978-1982) and Minister for Native Affairs (1987-1988), recognized historic irony. The people of Quebec had not agreed to the original Canada Act of 1982, and refused to sign it. Now when the English and French parliamentary majorities had found some common ground and terms of agreement, they had neglected to consult with and gain consent of the Canadian First Nations people.

Having found an eagle feather on his path earlier that week and seeing it as a symbol of his ancestors' guidance, he felt empowered to stand in Parliament and speak to the injustice of the Meech Lake Accord, which like many government acts of the past, would dispose of the traditional territories of the First Nations people without their consent.

By initiating a filibuster that extended the debate on the question past its deadline, Elijah Harper, with his Eagle feather, succeeded in blocking the passage of the Meech Lake Accord.

Later that year (1990) Harper won the Stanley Knowles humanitarian Award and was named "Newsmaker of the Year in Canada" by the Canadian Press.

A survivor of the residential schools, Harper graduated from the University of Manitoba, and has recently been working to bring Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people together to find a spiritual common ground and a basis for healing. He is active in the Canadian Aboriginal Land Claims Commission, and still in demand as a public speaker.


Aboriginal dancers brave the August heat

While dancers in traditional dress dance Chicken, Fancy, Jingle and other dances, they move to the beat of the drums and the chanting singers. Their regalia are decorated with eagle feathers, bone, quills, and fur from traditional animals like rabbit, fox, wolf, or wolverine. On their feet they wear moose or deerhide moccasins, sometimes lovingly beaded by an elderly grandmother or aunt. Often the animal masks or headdresses they wear are family icons, handed down through generations. Some have teachings that go along with them.

After the drum beats end, the dancers walk off the field to join their friends and families in the stands, or go to sleep off the exertion in their tent. The dancing goes to midnight, and the visiting carries on later than that.


Young women dance at pow wow in Kamloops, BC.
Young women dance at pow wow in Kamloops, BC. | Source
Young women dancing traditional dances in Kamloops heat at Kamloopa Powwow 2012.
Young women dancing traditional dances in Kamloops heat at Kamloopa Powwow 2012. | Source
After the dance, young women dancers leave the field.
After the dance, young women dancers leave the field. | Source
Men dancing in traditional regalia with eagle feather bustles, headdress and fans.
Men dancing in traditional regalia with eagle feather bustles, headdress and fans. | Source
Men dancing
Men dancing | Source
Men dancing
Men dancing | Source
Dancers line up in front of judges.
Dancers line up in front of judges.
Dancer waits for the drum to start
Dancer waits for the drum to start | Source
The drum begins.
The drum begins. | Source

Kamloopa Pow Wow 2012 Drummers

Native Drums at Kamloops Pow Wow

Around the perimeter of the dancing ground, bands of drummers and singers have come from British Columbia, Alberta, Washington State and beyond to play in turn for the dancers. The drums are made of of hides stretched tightly around a wooden cylinder, and laced together with leather thongs cut from strips of hide. Several drummers beat at once in practiced rhythms with drumsticks as they chant in their traditional language.

Silent drum
Silent drum | Source
Canada's first voice
Canada's first voice | Source
Drummers up next
Drummers up next | Source

In the Crowd at Kamloopa Pow Wow

Like any fair, exhibition or rodeo, many of the events of Kamloopa Pow Wow happen behind the scenes and off the main stage. In the bleachers and along the aisles children play, young dancers in regalia wait for their call, while finishing dancers find their families and share triumph or disappointment. People eat, rest, visit, or shop at the booths of visiting artisans.

Dancer waiting for her call.
Dancer waiting for her call. | Source
Women Jingle Dancers Waiting
Women Jingle Dancers Waiting | Source
Dancer 321
Dancer 321 | Source
Jingle Dancer dresses
Jingle Dancer dresses | Source
Worn out
Worn out | Source

First Nations Art and Artifacts

Every summer in Kamloops, whose nameTK'emlups in the local Secwpemc language means "meeting of the waters," Kamloopa Powwow celebrates much more than dancing and drumming. It's a gathering place where First Nations artists and artisans from around North America come to reconnect with old friends and scattered kin, to sell their paintings, carvings, bead work, jewellery, and clothing. In this forum where twin rivers meet, traditions of the past take on new life and gather strength for moving forward .

Carver at work on a soapstone ashtray
Carver at work on a soapstone ashtray | Source
Carver with Blue-Eyed Buffalo in soapstone
Carver with Blue-Eyed Buffalo in soapstone | Source
Braided sweetgrass is burned in blessing, and to carry prayers to spirit.
Braided sweetgrass is burned in blessing, and to carry prayers to spirit. | Source
Robe and chieftains
Robe and chieftains | Source
robe
robe | Source
Eagle feather fan
Eagle feather fan | Source
Tipi poles
Tipi poles | Source
The tipi and the sacred mountain
The tipi and the sacred mountain | Source

More by this Author


Comments 24 comments

Brainy Bunny profile image

Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

These photos are gorgeous. Thank you for letting me experience something I've never seen before!


Janis Goad profile image

Janis Goad 4 years ago Author

I am so glad you enjoyed it, Brainy Bunny. If you come to visit up here one day, come in August and see the Pow Wow. It really is thrilling.


mecheshier profile image

mecheshier 4 years ago

I must say, this is a fabulous Hub. Amazing pics that captures the people and festivities! I love Pow Wows. Unfortunately I was not able to attend to any this summer. Next year is a must!

Thanks for sharing. Voted up for awesome and interesting.


Janis Goad profile image

Janis Goad 4 years ago Author

They take place all over North America. There is probably one not far from your home.

Thanks for the visit and comment, Mechshier. I appreciate it.


drumweaver profile image

drumweaver 4 years ago from our blessed earth mother - canada...

hey janis... wow... an amazing post - i have attended this pow wow - and many others when i lived on a reserve in manitoba... quite the experience.... i especially love grand entry as the elders enter and open the circle with their eagle staffs and the blessed drums - wow again... good job!!! bright blessings... weaver x (((o)))


mecheshier profile image

mecheshier 4 years ago

Hi Janis

I live in N. Montana. Yes there are Pow Wows here. But the best Pow Wows I think are in Wyoming. :-)


Janis Goad profile image

Janis Goad 4 years ago Author

Dream Weaver, thank you so much for blessings and sharing your experience. The elders are such a huge part of keeping the knowledge and the spiritual connection going.


Janis Goad profile image

Janis Goad 4 years ago Author

Wyoming? I need to try to get to one--can you suggest one or two to head for?


mecheshier profile image

mecheshier 4 years ago

Cody is my favorite ( was also born in Cody). They have had the Plains Indian Pow Wow there for as long as I can remember. It isn't the biggest but it is quite amazing. Competitive dance prizes total up to $25,000, so you can image the attire and shows.

Wyoming’s biggest Pow Wow is the Eastern Shoshone Indian Days, held each summer over the fourth week in June at Fort Washakie.


GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

Just a stunning, visual Hub. I'd really love to attend a celebration like this. Thanks. Your photos are extraordinary. Voting and sharing.


SimeyC profile image

SimeyC 4 years ago from NJ, USA

Superb photographs - and tons of interesting information - really makes me want to visit!


Janis Goad profile image

Janis Goad 4 years ago Author

Thanks your your visit, Good Lady. I hope you can visit the pow wow one day.


Janis Goad profile image

Janis Goad 4 years ago Author

mechshier, I will try to get down to some across the border next summer. There are also pow wows in Alberta, and that's not far from here where I live.


Janis Goad profile image

Janis Goad 4 years ago Author

SimeyC, I am glad you enjoyed it. The photographs are thrilling, but the event with sound, smells, and the heat is amazing.


jimmythejock profile image

jimmythejock 4 years ago from Scotland

What an interesting and informative read, I learned a lot from this hub and your pictures are stunning, thanks for sharing.....jimmy


Janis Goad profile image

Janis Goad 4 years ago Author

So glad you enjoyed it Jimmy. Thanks for comment!


wilderness profile image

wilderness 4 years ago from Boise, Idaho

What a neat hub! Absolutely love your photos and envy you the opportunity to participate in something this. I've been to a couple of these kinds of things, but they were nothing like what you describe here.


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK

I would love to visit an event like this, but in the meantime it's great to be able to make a virtual visit thanks to your wonderful photos.


Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

This was so interesting and I enjoyed all of your pictures as well. When I lived in Quebec I went to a few pow wows but it was so long ago. I hope to make it out west soon, and it would be really nice to attend the Kamloops Pow Wow.


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Wow. Janis, this is my favorite hub that you have done. I'm glad I picked it to do my first peer review. I will send you my review shortly.

Only one comment I would make is that the word 'costume' should not be used. Native American dress is always referred to as 'regalia' or 'dress', never costume.

Totally awesome photography! Did you take the videos too? Seriously fantastic hub.


Janis Goad profile image

Janis Goad 4 years ago Author

Wilderness, I am thrilled to live so near. This is a really big powwow in western Canada, and the band who hosts it puts tremendous work into making it a wonderful event.

Judi, if you get a chance, visit. It is a special experience in North America. Glad you enjoyed the photos.

Susan, there may be powwows in your area too, in southern Ontario and Quebec. Each one has its own flavour.

Austinstar, thanks for the comment about the word choice. I went back and changed it. Language is so laden with cultural values, we don't always know what we are saying. The photos and videos were taken on my small digital camera. Looking forward to hearing more from you!


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

I posted your/my review on the AP forum titled Completed Peer Feedback - Check here for your feedback..... Hope it helps.


Janis Goad profile image

Janis Goad 4 years ago Author

Thank you so much for your comments, Austinstar! Your feedback helps. We have such a supportive community here on HubPages, and there is always a chance to learn from other writers.


Sam Edge profile image

Sam Edge 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

Enjoyed this Hub. I am from Williams Lake BC and my wife if Secwepemc we haven't been to Kamloopa for a few years - you represented I well.

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