A Powwow is a First Nations gathering that is filled with celebration, music and dancing. For 3 days each August, the Kamloops First Nations host the biggest powwow in Western Canada, the Kamloopa Powwow.
On my first night in Kamloops, I heard the beat of the drums from my hotel room across the highway. It lasted all night long. Little did I know that it was the first night of the Kamloopa Powwow. The next day, from the highway, I could see hundreds of tents and teepees sprawled across the grassy field. This was my first sight of the powwow, and what an impression it has made on me.
From the parking lot, I followed the beat of the drums, which led me into the arena filled with spectators, dancers and, yes, the drummers. The master of ceremonies pulled the event together as he introduced each group, provided explanations of each portion of the festivities. He was passionate and authentic in all he shared.
There were thousands of people in the stands and seated around the edge of the grass field. The floodlights illuminated each generational group as they filed into the stadium. Each group represented either a particular style of dance, or a generational group. It was a moving experience for me to witness generations of native people parading into the arena to celebrate their culture and heritage, filled with pride, honor and reverence. This was a heart-warming opportunity to see First Nations people in their colorful regalia as they shared their stories through song and dance, moving to the beat of the drums. Their traditional dress were brightly colored and adorned with elaborate beading and feathers. Throughout the night, I heard a constant buzz of people talking, and it reminded me of a huge family reunion. I loved seeing everyone come together to socialize and celebrate their heritage.
The gathering was open to anyone who wanted to join the celebration. One of my favorite moments was when I strutted my dance moves in the arena with everyone else. I moved to the beat of the drum, crossing one foot over the other, keeping my hips centered and swaying my shoulders back and forth. As I circled the arena I was mesmerized by the rhythm of the drums.
To top off my night, I had the honor of meeting and interviewing Chief Shane of the Kamloops Indian band. I also met Ernie Philip who organized the very first powwow in Kerrisdale, Vancouver, British Columbia; and interviewed three younger participants to learn what this powwow meant to their generation.
The powwow provides the First Nations people with an opportunity to celebrate their history, culture and rich traditions. I saw and felt a sense of hope from the younger generation and a real sense of pride from the older generation. Through their dancing, I understood that their way of life is simple. It involves becoming one with nature and nurturing a humble reverence for wildlife. Their culture and identity are rooted deeply in their history and they value the group rather than the individual. It was an honor for me to be part of the powwow and to witness their rich culture in a fresh new way.