Annual Indigenous Centre Pow Wow makes waves online

Monday, November 2, 2020

Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre Team
On September 26, the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre (WISC) at St. Paul’s, hosted its seventeenth annual pow wow virtually, garnering over 4,000 clicks during the live-streamed event on Facebook.

“Having the pow wow this year, even during a pandemic, was extremely important to us and our community,” said Lori Campbell, WISC director. “It is a time for many of us to celebrate culture, share knowledge and connect with those we care about. We saw others had done virtual pow wows, so we decided to try it as well and we are so glad we did!” 

These annual pow wows began in 2004 and were started by Jean Becker and Melissa Ireland who were running Waterloo’s Aboriginal Student Services at the time. Since then, it has transitioned to the WISC and it has continued the tradition and expanded the annual pow wow to a larger event typically held in Waterloo Park.

This event still was able to showcase the traditional elements of the pow wow such as the sunrise ceremony, opening prayer, a grand entry song, traditional dancers and a community hand drum circle. It ran very much like a newscast in the sense that the host, Amy Smoke, explained each upcoming segment of the event, and the stream transitioning to various people and locations, ensuring all health and safety measures were followed throughout.

A common element of all pow wows is the many wonderful vendors, which sell Indigenous clothing, visual art, food and other goods at the event. Since this could not be replicated in an online format, it instead incorporated a live mural painting done by local Indigenous artist  Alanah Jewell and her partner Luke Swinson on a shed near the WISC’s sacred fire grounds.

Mural by Alanah Jewell
“This was an exciting way to incorporate visual art into the pow wow in a way that we had never done before,” said Chloe Racine Blair, WISC assistant. 

Campbell shared that the mural is a representation of community, ceremony and belonging.

“Being at St. Paul’s we love to have a place where our students can be themselves and know they belong on campus,” said Campbell. “It is great to have a wonderful partnership where we have space to freely practice ceremony, culture, traditions and share knowledge with one another.”     

The live stream also fostered a very active comment section, which allowed for an educational open dialogue between the audience and presenters. Another unique benefit of hosting the event virtually is the record number of people that were able to experience the pow wow and are still able to experience it through the recorded version.

The WISC team looks forward to hosting the next annual pow wow at Waterloo Park when the COVID-19 pandemic has been resolved.