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'Heartbeat of our nation': Traditional Pow Wow returns to Georgian

'It’s great to have the drums back on campus, to see the vendors (and) to see all of the dancers,' says Georgian College official

The gymnasium at Georgian College’s Barrie campus was buzzing with energy this weekend as people perused vendors and anxiously awaited the Grand Entry for the college’s 15th annual Traditional Pow Wow.

The event, hosted by the staff and students with the college’s Indigenous Resource Centre, was put on hold in 2020 —  just days before it was scheduled to take place — due to the COVID-19 pandemic, noted special events coordinator Vanessa Kennedy.

“It’s great to have it back. It’s great to have the drums back on campus, to see the vendors (and) to see all of the dancers. A lot of the dancers come back year after year ... A lot of them are former alumni and they’ve come here to go to school, so it’s really good for them to come back and know there’s a place to come back to dance and celebrate their culture and their heritage,” she said prior to the first Grand Entry, which she anticipated would boast approximately 75 dancers, if not more.

A event is an important way to reconnect to indigenous culture and the big drum, known as the heartbeat of Mother Earth, explained Kennedy.

“When you hear it, you will know, because you can feel it in your chest. It’s the heartbeat of our nation. We tie it to Mother Earth because she is in slumber at this time and she’s starting to wake up. When we play our big drum, it’s signalling her to wake up and, obviously, the arrival of spring. That’s when she comes alive again and we become alive,” she said.

Kennedy was excited to see a crowd after the three-year hiatus.

“We have not been able to gather for some time, so I knew it would be very, very busy. We knew we were going to have a lot of people come and be a part of it … do some vending, do some dancing, do some singing. We are happy about that,” she said. “We want people to come together, we want people to celebrate and we want people to hear our language. It’s really important for the Indigenous (Resource) Centre because that is the point of (the centre) — to carry on our language and that’s carried on through the songs you hear here today.”

The first Grand Entry took place shortly after noon, with a second scheduled to take place at 7 p.m.

Chett Monague, of Christian Island, was one of the dancers who took part in the event. He told BarrieToday it is a great opportunity to connect with the community.

“I wanted to come and spend some time with family and to come and celebrate. It’s incredible to be able to come back and to gather again. The energy is really good … the thing about powwow is there’s never really bad energy at a powwow. You’re coming to celebrate and give thanks for what you have day to day but also give thanks for everybody being here,” he said.

Monague has taken part in the powwow at Georgian College many times over the years, and he said the annual event typically kicks off powwow season in the region.

“We usually start our travels and our time going from powwow to powwow, starting with this one here, so it’s kind of a first step in the spring and then a first step to getting ready to celebrate for the summer,” he said.

While Saturday’s event is a celebration, Monague said it can also serve as a step toward learning about truth and reconciliation, He said he was happy to see non-Indigenous people in attendance and taking the opportunity to learn about Indigenous cultures.

“This is a really great way to introduce yourself to Indigenous cultures within Ontario … and it’s a good first step,” he said, adding he encourages people to do the work needed to better understand truth and reconciliation and to continue to do the work required to unlearn about Indigenous cultures as well.