Two dancers trying their best to win the potato dance. (Submitted by Logan Perley) At the Oromocto First Nation, grass dancers are stomping the ground, clearing the grass of sticks and rocks while their fringed, bright regalia sways to a beat, like grass blowing in the wind.
Summer on Turtle Island means powwow season. All summer long in Canada, drum groups, dancers and spectators have been clearing their weekend schedules to get to the nearest gathering.
"Powwow to me is a time when families get together and share the teachings and culture and have a good time," says Gilbert Sark of Lennox Island First Nation, a Mi’kmaq reserve in Prince Edward Island.
Until 1951, powwows were banned by the Canadian government under the Indian Act, but then the tradition, with origins on the western plains, spread to the East Coast.
Now, many First Nations hold powwows, and they’re open to everyone.
Each is as different as the dances and drumming, but here is some help following the action. Garland Joe Augustine of Elsipogtog First Nation shares a laugh with another men’s traditional dancer after a duck and dive at the Tobique First Nation powwow. (Submitted by Logan Perley) Getting the ground ready
The grass dancers’ role is to prepare the arena for the grand entry parade, when the flags of First Nations in attendance will be carried in.
"The grass dance is a beautiful dance that represents the people that went first — not just the people who went first to be ahead of people, but to dance," said Possesom Paul, a Wolastoqey of St. Mary’s First Nation, a grass dancer and the head male dancer at Oromocto First Nation’s third annual powwow.
Grass dancers were also the scouts.
"They went ahead of the tribe, the people, the community," Paul said. "They would lead the nation whenever the nation needed to migrate." Different kinds of powwows
There are two types of powwows. Traditional powwows are usually smaller and put more emphasis on teachings and culture.
Competition powwows are more about who is the best in a particular style, and dancers train all year to win the top prizes in their styles.
And there are a lot of dances and styles.
Among the more common dances are the men’s traditional, which tells the story of a hunt of victory, and the women’s traditional, a slow, elegant dance that may include scrubbing — staying in one place but turning to the drumbeats — or walking in baby-like steps, as if massaging the Earth.
Men and women’s fancy dances are thrilling to watch. The men’s fancy dance is fast-paced, incorporating cartwheels, back flips and other acrobatic moves as the dancers twirl staffs and shake the feather bustles on their backs. An intertribal dance at St. Mary’s First Nation. Performers include Garland Joe Augustine in foreground, a men’s traditional dancer. (Submitted by Logan Perley) In the women’s fancy, the steps are intricate, emulating a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. The dancers appear to float around the arena, twirling and spinning their frilled shawls.
Styles also vary depending on the region. Some dances may be accompanied by their own drum songs, such as double beat, crow hop, duck and dive. On the powwow trail Some people travel across the country to get to the best powwows, dance their styles and sing their nations’ songs."I’ve been doing this since ’92," said Gilbert Sark of drum group Hey Cuzzins. "There has been days where to get to the powwow, I had the drum on my back with my pack sack, and I was hiking."For Sark and others on the powwow trail, the gatherings are a way of life. […]
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