‘Not just for Indigenous people’: SAIT holds first powwow in 8 years

Colourful culture: Two young dancers participate in a competitive dance during a powwow at SAIT on Saturday, April 6, 2024. (Photo by Josiah Navratil/The Press)

SAIT was shaking Saturday as the first major powwow in eight years was held on campus.

More than 200 people turned up on April 6 to see traditional Indigenous dancing and visit the many booths selling artwork.

This was a hybrid powwow meaning there was competitive and traditional dancing, with more than 100 dancers participating, ranging from tiny tots to adults.

“It’s been seven or eight years since we had a big community powwow,” said Jennifer Russell, director of Indigenous engagement at SAIT.

“We’re really excited to have the community join us … in the spirit of community and celebration.”

Indigenous engagement: Jennifer Russell poses in front of a painting of a bison in Natoysopoyiis on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. (Photo by Josiah Navratil/The Press)

The event began with a flag ceremony representing the many Indigenous groups across Canada. There was also a SAIT flag and an Every Child Matters flag.

The Irene Lewis Atrium was filled with the sound of pounding drums, singing and the jingling from the dancers. To one side was a large white teepee with people of various ages drumming and singing.

Markets showcasing Indigenous art and clothing surrounded the main performance area with spectators at balconies on all floors watching the colourful, cultural celebration demonstrated through dance.

“A powwow is not just for Indigenous people, it’s for everybody,” said Russell.

“You don’t have to dance but everybody’s welcome to come and participate by watching and then taking in the music and the dancing.”

Flag opener: Flagbearers representing Indigenous groups across Canada wait for the opening of the powwow on SAIT on Saturday, April 6, 2024. (Photo by Josiah Navratil/The Press)

For some dancers, they are honouring past family members during their performance.

“My son passed away in 2012 and I made (this) black outfit because I was mourning,” said Wesley Three Suns, a competitor in the grass dance from Siksika nation.

“But I still wear it when I when I’m thinking about him, when I’m dancing right now.”

The powwow showcases belonging for SAIT’s Indigenous community.

“It’s important for Indigenous students at SAIT to be able to see and participate in something that is specific to our cultures in terms of a powwow,” said Russell.

Indigenous students have access to Natoysopoyiis (nah-toy-so-poh-yees), which mean Holy Wind Lodge, which is a place where they can connect with peers as well as smudge and pray. It has been open since 2001.

“It is a sacred place,” said Russell.

“It is a special place that we can smudge, we can pray and you’re yourself … When we smudge and when we pray it helps to reduce that anxiety and stress and neutralize some of those normal feelings that come along with being a student.”

Ventilation inside Natoysopoyiis allows students to be able to smudge and pray.

Russell says Natoysopoyiis’s ventilation has been used as a model by the University of Calgary, Mount Royal University and Bow Valley College when creating their own Indigenous student centres.

Russell is also hopeful that a welcome back powwow will be held at the beginning of the fall semester, but that is unconfirmed. There will be an annual powwow at SAIT moving forward.

Something more: Wesley Three Suns wears his regalia on the SAIT campus on Saturday, April 6, 2024. This outfit is in memory of his son who passed away in 2012. (Photo by Josiah Navratil/The Press)
About Josiah Navratil 2 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Josiah Navratil is working as a writer for The Press in 2024.