Powwow to promote education, community

Up to 5,000 people expected to attend first ever powwow on campus

Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre manager Georgina Riel says now is a good time for an aboriginal awakening.
Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre manager Georgina Riel says now is a good time for an aboriginal awakening.

On Saturday Agnes Benedickson Field will be host to Queen’s first annual educational powwow, “Engaging the Community.”

Georgina Riel, Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre manager, said she expects anywhere between 1,000 and 5,000 attendees.

The powwow is the first at Queen’s and is hosted by Four Directions, the campus resource centre for aboriginal community members or anyone interested in aboriginal issues and practices.

“I don’t have a really sexy story for how it came about,” Riel said. “Things that we do sometimes are very internal in the centre, and even though we’ve put on very large events … nothing on a very broad, broad scale … So we thought, ‘What’s a better way to bring aboriginal communities, people of all aboriginal nations, together?’ And powwows are the best way.”

So far people from Quebec, New York, Michigan and Northern Ontario have called Four Directions about Saturday’s event, which Riel said she hopes will become annual.

Non-aboriginal students and people from Kingston and surrounding communities are welcome to attend.

“Because we title this an educational powwow, the people that I’ve spoken to that have been invited to come are extremely excited and very honoured,” Riel said.

She said the powwow is an opportunity for people of all ages and cultures to learn.

“Education does not just mean it’s pertaining to young people. We always learn until the day we die.”

Saturday’s events will begin at 6 a.m. with a Sunrise Ceremony, which is intended to awaken the morning and to bless the day.

“People can come out, they can give their blessing and their prayer and be part of the ceremony,” Riel said.

The event includes a free pancake breakfast at 9 a.m. in Grant Hall.

One of the most important aspects of the powwow is the drumming.

“Our host drummer is the Red Spirit Singers. … They’ve played for the Pope, they’ve travelled internationally,” Riel said.

Along with the drummers, there are three groups of head dancers invited to the powwow.

Once or twice throughout the day, Riel said, the emcee will request one of the drum groups to play an intertribal song.

“That means that everybody who’s there—attending, watching, participating—has been invited to come out and dance … So if you’re shy, come out and dance. If you’re not shy, come out and dance.” Guests will also be able to visit social service and career service vendors, as well as vendors selling traditional crafts, jewellery, clothing and flags. Local food vendors and merchants from the Kingston area, such as Ten Thousand Villages and Telus, will also take part in Saturday’s events.

Riel said that following a powwow, guests are given parting gifts—a tradition known as a Give Away.

“In Western society, if we are invited to a special event, a family engagement, it’s up to us as the guest to bring a gift. But in Aboriginal customs, it is us offering gifts to the people who attend, and thanking them for coming out and participating and being there for us,” she said.

She said numerous Kingston merchants have given contributions for Saturday’s Give Away.

“It’s not meant to have a gift with large monetary value to it. It’s mostly about the message that’s there, to give thanks.”

Riel said the powwow will be a nice way to introduce people who have never been to a post-secondary institution to campus life.

“Hopefully with this being an annual event, we’ll get those young people coming on a regular basis and the more they come year after year, the more comfortable they are in a university setting,” she said.

She said it has been interesting organizing the event around powwow protocols, including those of each nation and those of the university. The centre has tried to match invitees with a helper from their nation to show them around.

“We also have to look at the fact that it’s important to recognize the amount of experience and knowledge that someone has,” Riel said.

The most important thing is maintaining good relations.

“It’s like having relatives at your house—you have to feed them, you have to house them, you have to make their stay extremely comfortable,” she said.

About 50 people involved in the ceremony will be housed in hotels in the Kingston area. Dreamcatcher’s Inn on Wolfe Island donated two days of accommodation for some guests, which Riel said was extremely helpful financially.

Riel said Four Directions is very happy and very honoured by the support they have received from the University, which is primarily funding the event.

“It becomes a costly event because we are not surrounded by large aboriginal communities,” she said.

“We’re all just really excited for Saturday. We’ve really been promoting the centre internally … but this is a really good time for an aboriginal awakening … for the University, for the larger component.”

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