'It's healing our spirits': Eskasoni powwow celebrates 30th anniversary

Elder dancers dressed in regalia enter the powwow grounds in the opening ceremony.   (Emily Latimer - image credit)
Elder dancers dressed in regalia enter the powwow grounds in the opening ceremony. (Emily Latimer - image credit)

Hundreds of people gathered on Saturday to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Eskasoni's annual competition powwow.

The largest Mi'kmaw community in the world welcomed visitors from far and wide for two days of dancing, drumming and singing.

Extending the invitation beyond the small community was a point of pride for Chief Leroy Denny, who hasn't missed a powwow in Eskasoni since its inception in 1992.

"I have my friends here.... All of us met here 30 years ago at the powwow and have been coming here since then," Denny said. "I'm proud to be here."

Denny said Eskasoni's powwow began as traditional and spiritual, but later evolved. "[It was] like a rebirth, it was like a revitalization of our identity as Mi'kmaq, our dances, our songs."

Thirty years on, drum groups and dancers from all over the country and the U.S. visit to hear their songs. Denny said the gathering of tribes and nations, and the sharing of traditions and languages is powerful.

'Long overdue'

In 2020, the powwow was cancelled due to COVID, and last year it went ahead with restrictions. Newell Johnson said hearing drummers and seeing dancers was long overdue.

"Just to see people enjoying themselves and being together again really is just uplifting," Johnson said. "I think everybody needs this. I know I needed this."

Emily Latimer
Emily Latimer

The event saw many dancers compete in the youth categories for ages six to 12 and 13 to 17.

Eli Johnson just started dancing in powwows this year, in order to connect with his daughter and teach her the tradition.

"I was going to dance with her ... so she would feel better about herself dancing," Johnson said.

He made a jingle dress for his daughter, Lilianna, "because it's part of our culture." She competed in the junior girls category.

"I like powwows, and I like dancing, it makes me feel good. I love the environment. I love the people. I love the drum," he said.

All-ages celebration

The two-day event kicked off with the Grand Entry and welcoming ceremony on Saturday afternoon, followed by competitive dancing categories with cash prizes awarded to winners.

Tents and tables were set up around the powwow grounds as competitors took to the centre to dance. Vendors were glad to see visitors streaming in.

Emily Latimer
Emily Latimer

Mariah Doucette-MacNeil was selling artwork — a print of a woman standing in full regalia, hair braided, wearing beaded earrings. "But she's faceless because her soul is lost," Doucette-MacNeil said.

"I like to try to keep tradition alive. My culture is really important to me," Doucette-MacNeil said.

Dancing and drumming is another way to connect with traditional Mi'kmaw culture. Muin Paul is a drummer with the group East Boys and a competitive grass dancer from Eskasoni.

Paul said powwow dancing and drumming helps to regenerate his energy. "It's healing our spirits," he said.

Emily Latimer
Emily Latimer