Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Chilcotin Holidays

First nations Pow-Wow – Culture

On June 4th and 5th, 2016, the traditional St'át'imc Pow-Wow took place in Pemberton, in the Fraser Canyon region. It was a weekend of dances and gathering for the First Nations. From 1pm to 5pm, and again from 7pm until the rest of the evening, locals from the St'át'imc territory came to gather with their close friends and family. In the Pemberton gymasium, a native presentor was running the event. He had the role of Arena Director and Master of ceremony. Being the head leader of the Pow Wow is a real honor and was proof of the skills and dedication of the chosen person. He was responsible for calling the dancers and drummers, keeping the audience aware of what was happening and making sure that the ceremony follows tradition.

During the Pow Wow, dancers were performing choreographies in turns, often associated with one of the big drums. Groups were competing against each other. Pride is one of the most important aspects, but tangible gifts can also be offered.

Around the room were five groups of approximately ten people, seated in a circle, with a drum in the center. Those were the five big drums. The drum players were taking turns throughout the whole ceremony when they were invited to play by the arena director. Drummers are also singers. Amongst the group there is a Lead Singer who leads the others while singing. Not every song has a vocal component to it, but the opening and closing songs do.

In the center was the dance arena, where the competition was taking place. The dancing groups were separated into different categories: The Golden Age Ladies, The Golden Age Men, The Tiny Dancers (who were children between 3 and 8 years old), The Eagle Creek (young girls first, then young boys), The Shadow Mountains (junior girls first, junior boys second) and the Traditional Girls and Boys. All of them were wearing traditional clothing (called regalia) either made of animal skin or synthetic material with very bright colors, musical pieces and meaningful patterns. Anyone could take part in the dances.

Around the dance arena were the drums and in the larger circle there were vendors. They were selling traditional souvenirs such as jewelry, beadworks, decorations, clothing and mocassins. A lady was making everyone happy by selling indian ice-cream. She was making it herself at the same time as she was handing it over. Indian ice-cream is made of water, sugar and Soopolallie berries, and not only does it taste good, but it is good for our health! The audience was also in the outer circle watching the dancers and musicians and cheering on each performance.

The cultural manifestation at a Pow Wow is extremely strong. The ceremony has to unfold according to the tradition. Dancers have specific steps for each music. Every song has an important meaning and all of them must be played in order. Every type of regalia also possesses a particular significance; the regalia must be appropriate for the dance competition. Dancers change their regalia throughout the Pow Wow, showing a different outfit in accordance to the dance they are performing. Authentic regalia and the person wearing it should not be touched without permission. The same applies to the drums; someone who is not part of the circle cannot touch the big drum. The opening and closing pieces are extremely important. Following dancers should not step on the dancing area before the leaders. The Golden Age Men's last dance must not be photographed; this event is sacred. The arena director is responsible for ensuring that every part of the Pow Wow follows the rules - for example, when a feather is dropped, there is a specific dance around the feather, which is placed in the center, and the feather must not be picked up until the ceremony is finished.

The meaning of this ceremony for St'át'imc inhabitants was to gather and bring memories of their ancestors with traditional music and dances. Few non First Nation people had the chance to assist it; it remains a St'át'imc gathering, where everyone is invited to come along and enjoy the festivities.

Chilcotin Holidays

About Chilcotin Holidays

We are a licensed guide outfitter and we conduct guided wilderness adventures throughout our 5,000 square km operating area. This guide area has been operational since 1880, making it the oldest in British Columbia. More about us HERE.

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