The Powwow at Alexis
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  Posted July 12th, 2016 by Zdenko  in Edmonton | 2 comments

Edmonton life

By: Zdenko Kahlina

Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation Powwow
Several weeks ago my wife was invited to annual competition Powwow at Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation band and being a good husband I went along. The event took place on July 6, 7 and 8th at the Alexis reserve in Alberta. We also invited our quests Lidija and Nikolina (young girls from Croatia) to join us for this event as we were sure, they have never had a chance to see Powwow before.

Men dancers at Alexis Powwow

Community Feast at Alexis Powwow
So, on Sunday July 8, we drove to Alexis reserve which is located about 1 hour drive or distance of 85 km west of the city. We followed highway 16 west until the junction of highway 43. Along highway 43, we passed by the Alberta Beach, Onoway, Barhead, and Gunn turnoff. You can turn off for Alexis at the sign for Ross Haven. If you choose to make this left turnoff, make a right turn immediately after the train tracks. This will lead you directly to Alexis. We actually decided to continue on highway 43 until we got to a turn off for the Alexis First Nation Reserve and Glenevis, because this is a bit better road. This road will also lead you to Alexis. From the highway turn off it’s only about 2-3 km before you reach the village.

The total registered population of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation is about 2,000 persons. By the time we arrived on-site, the powwow program has already begun and the main arena field was crowded with community members in their traditional costumes. Surrounding fields were turned into camp sites as many people traveled from far away to participate in the celebrations. This was already the third day of celebrations and their Grand Entry.

Alexis Powwow – Main arena

Alexis Powwow – Grand Entry

What is Powwow?
A Powwow is a celebration that centers around dance, song, and family. Traditionally it is a celebration presented by one tribe or band of Native people to welcome and honor others. Powwows are usually three-day weekend events and people often travel great distances to attend them. The main Powwow season is summer. All people, including non-Native people are encouraged to attend one. The experience of attending a powwow can be a valuable and fascinating cultural experience for a non-Native people, particularly those unfamiliar with the first peoples of this country. Perfect place for two young Croatians we brought along…

There are several different kinds of powwows, though the two most common are known as the traditional powwow and the competition powwow. In traditional powwows, everyone participates in the dancing or singing. While there is a degree of competition in the dancing events, it is not a formal competition. The following ceremonies are big part of traditional powwows: honorings, giveaways, “first dances” or “coming out” dances, and adoption ceremonies.

Alexis Powwow – great attendance by many people

Competition Powwow
A competition powwow, on the other hand, has significant prize money for the dancers, depending on the hosting band. Everyone can still compete and dance, but only the dancers who place near the top of the competition receive prize money. Drum groups also compete for prize money.

The arena directors keep the events moving and manage the flow of activity in the arena. They may tell the drummers who will play next or what kind of song they are to have ready. The arena director also serves the judges or organizes the dancers. They have extremely active and important jobs. Judges are chosen for their knowledge of the dance style and drum songs. They judge dancers on the style and form, regalia and ability to stay in time with the drum and stop on the final beat.

Knowledge of any Native ceremony is sacred. The people (must be) given that knowledge by an Elder. For the arena director and the people who are learning how to run the ceremonies, it is a right that has to be given by an Elder. Tobacco, blankets, and other gifts are the means of payment to arena directors…

Alexis Powwow – Drummer boys

Grand Entry
The powwow begins with the Grand Entry. All spectators are asked to rise as the flags and eagle staffs of the host and visiting bands are brought in. The arena directors lead the way by burning sweet grass. The eagle staffs and flags represent nations, communities, and families.

The drums begin a Grand Entry song. The chief of the host tribe and the visiting dignitaries enter the arena. They are followed by other honored members and the color guard of veterans. The people who have been elected by their home communities to honor and represent the different bands follow next. The dancers are lead by the Elders, with the men dancers first, generally in the following order: men’s traditional dancers, men’s chicken dancers, men’s grass dancers, and the men’s fancy dancers. Then the women enter led by the Elder women, and in the following order: women’s traditional dancers jingle dress dancers, and the fancy shawl dancers. The teenage boys enter next, followed by the teenage girls, the younger boys and girls, and then the tiny tots.

Alexis Powwow – Grand Entry ceremony

Alexis Powwow – Grand Entry ceremony

Alexis Powwow – Grand Entry ceremony

The dancers are announced by the emcee as they pass the announcer’s stand. Finally, the arena is filled with all the dancers, each dancing in grand regalia. The drummers are responsible for maintaining the Grand Entry song from drum group to drum group until all the dancers are in the centre of the circle and dancing. The prayer song and honor song for veterans usually follow.

The Grand Entry is an impressive sight filled with beauty, pride and excitement.

The dance clothes worn in the circle of a powwow are called regalia or outfits. These outfits are never referred to as costumes.

Alexis Powwow – little boy

Alexis Powwow – beautiful girls at the Grand Entry ceremony

Alexis Powwow – Grand Entry man dancers

The regalia of a dancer is a very personal and artistic expression of the dancer’s life, feelings, spirituality, family and interests. Often, parts of a dancer’s regalia are gifts from Elders or special people who are part of the dancer’s life. The regalia evolves and changes as the dancer evolves and changes in life. The feathers worn by a dancer are considered sacred – especially eagle feathers. A lot of consideration is given to eagle feathers or the fans made out of feathers that traditional dancers carry. When a feather falls down at the powwow, it is considered a warrior who has fallen in battle. It is respect for the veterans. That is why so much respect is given for a fallen feather. Special ceremony is necessary to pick up a feather of a fan at the powwow, and no pictures or recordings are allowed during ceremonies. The arena director makes sure order is kept while ceremonies are being performed.

For many of the spectators in the arena this was their first powwow, and most of them commented on how much they enjoyed the experience. Our two quest girls were really impressed with the sound of drums and colorful costumes. Although this was not my first powwow, I was impressed with this year performances. The participants were very professional and even though it was a hot day, they danced effortlessly around the arena.

Pow Wow on Youtube:

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Indian Culture
Indian people have always had songs as part of their culture, just like any other race on this earth. Both drums and rattles are used, but this is not always the case, sometimes people will sing without these. There are many different songs that are sung and just as many reasons for singing them. Some are sacred and sung only during ceremony, songs such as the Sundance songs or the ones given during the vision quest. These songs given in the vision quest are personal and not sung for any reason other then when it is appropriate.

Alexis Powwow – very impressive costume

This is also true of the ones sung in the sweat lodge ceremony. If you think about it all aspects of their lives are sacred and each song is special in its own way. Long ago people were so in touch with that which moves all things that they were blessed with songs for many different reasons. There is a Grandfather who is the keeper of songs and this is where the sacred songs come from. It is said that each and every living being created has its own song. When native people went on the vision quest they might be given a song to call their spirit helper; but not everyone was given a song nor was everyone visited by the spirits. Many things have changed and some people no longer live as they are suppose to, so the songs may become lost. The grandfather will be there always waiting for the blessed ones. Every seven generations special people are born into the tribe and if they choose to walk the red road they will carry on the traditions and the songs will again be given to the people.

Alexis Powwow – Grand Entry ceremony

Today the songs most people are familiar with are the Pow-wow and Round Dance songs. The People of the Earth have always sung songs to celebrate life and this is so in the Pow-wow songs. This is something that the younger generation started in their quest to revive their culture and show pride in the fact that natives are still here and they love living so much that they had to find a way to share this with the entire world. A Hopi elder predicted that when the eagle lands on the moon the native people would start on a path that would lead them back to the culture and we would regain our spiritual strength. It is said that the first words out of the mouth of the astronuat that landed on the moon was “The eagle has landed”. It’s about the same time the Pow-wows started to become celebrated and is an annual event now. It brought all tribes together to celebrate life.

Alexis Powwow – Grand Entry ceremony

The Round Dance was a healing ceremony that became a social dance for the people and they usually hold these in the winter. This is also something new to our people which started many years in the past. The elders said those that have passed on come and dance with you when you dance at a Round Dance. When you look up into the night sky our relatives dance there just as they do when they join in the Round Dance with you.

Alexis Powwow – very impressive dancing

The Northern Lights you see are said to be those that have passed on and they are always present both night and day. So you should know your relatives are always there with you just on the other side of that thin veil. Their neighbors to the north the Dene tha have a similar dance which is referred to as a “Tea Dance” which is much like a Round Dance but has retained the spiritual aspect. If you have ever seen this dance you’ll notice that the people move very much like the northern lights. Each person moves up and down as they dance around the fire, like the northern lights. With their Round Dance they join hands in a circle and dance clockwise. The drum and the singers sit in the middle. The beat of the drum is like the heartbeat of the community and all members move as one. This is how it is suppose to be.

Alexis Powwow – another group playing drums

Traditional Drum Songs
The following are five categories of the different forms of traditional singing: *(Note there may be other categories; however, these are the most practiced in Alexis.)

1. Ceremonial – Sundance/Sweat Lodge Songs for Prayer and Healing (Hand Drum)
2. Ceremonial – Kasumi (Soup or Ghost Dance) for Healing, for Mother Earth and Her Medicine and for the Spirit World. (Hand Drum)
3. Ceremonial – Memorial (Songs for the Spirit) (Hand Drum)
4. Social – Tea Dance or Roundance ->Friendships, Weddings or Memorials (Hand Drum and Big Drum)
5. Community – Pow-wow in Celebration with other Tribes (Big Drum)

Each style of singing brings a different drum beat and spiritual conotation. Song makers often regard songs as prayers sung into the heavens. There are over 100 singers and drummers in Alexis including children, youth and women.

Alexis women are known to sing and hit the big drum in the pow-wow circuit. (Note – Some women chose to sing only for back up during pow-wows.) The Alexis Singers (1970-80′s), Little Boy and Hawk River Drum Groups are amongst the few of women singers in Canada. There’s also Little Island Cree from Saskatchewan and Cathedral Lakes from BC.

Songs are passed down from every generation to generation. Most songs have storires and family members who carry on those stories. There are a few known song makers in Alexis.

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2 comments to “The Powwow at Alexis”

  1. Comment by John Blades:

    This is a wonderful explanation Zdenko. What a coincidence, as we, my wife my daughter and myself attended the competition pow wow at Paul Band First Nations this summer. My daughter teaches grade 2/3 there and we often go and help out. Thanks for this.

  2. Comment by Hannah B:

    Very nice! Please correct an oopsie under one photo. “Alexis Powwow – very impressive costume”. That is an outfit, or regalia.

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