Continuing decades of tradition, Squamish residents will head to North Vancouver in droves for the annual celebration of First Nations culture that takes place July 13 to 15 on the Capilano Reserve.
The Squamish Nation Youth Powwow has taken place for the past three decades – this year marks the 31st annual celebration.
A powwow is a traditional festival of First Nations culture, including music, dance, foods, crafts and the passing down and sharing of traditions.
While originally a Plains tradition, powwows are now widely celebrated throughout North America.
Not only is the Squamish Nation Powwow 31 years old, but before a 30-year gap, powwows were held at the same location from 1947 to 1958. Gloria Nahanee and her family revived the Squamish powwow 31 years ago, and she remains the event organizer.
“We have powwow dancers from all over BC, Canada, Washington State,” she says. “It’s a competition powwow. There are all different categories right from newborns up to senior elders, 70 and older.”
Men’s dance categories include traditional, grass and fancy, says Nahanee. Women’s dance categories include traditional, jingle dress and fancy shawl. “It’s a gathering of our elders, handing down teachings of the drum, of the dances, of the regalia,” she says.
“It’s drug- and alcohol-free. The drumbeat is a heartbeat, and that really touches everyone — the songs, the drumming, the dancing. And then we have our salmon barbecue; we have our Indian tacos.”
Circling the main activity centre are exhibitions of crafts and artworks. The dancing takes place on the sports field adjacent to the elders building, the longhouse, and the Indian Shaker Church.
“It’s been there ever since I can remember,” says Nahanee. Numbers of dancers, other participants and visitors are hard to predict, but she estimates about 1,000 people will attend each day of the powwow.
“We might have 200 dancers — it varies year to year,” she says. Accommodating the influx of visitors is not a problem, she adds.
“The dancers usually camp, and there are motels around Capilano Road, or they stay with relatives,” says Nahanee. While having young members of the Squamish Nation attend is important for the sake of continuity, Nahanee is especially enthusiastic to have non-Indigenous guests too.
“In the past, we’ve had visitors from France, Germany, all over the world,” she says. “You have cultural understanding, and it’s fun, it’s really important.” She says nobody needs to feel nervous about not understanding the traditions or worrying that they might not know how to behave in certain situations during the powwow. Everything will be explained.
“The emcee will announce when you cannot tape or record,” she says. For example, if an eagle feather falls from a participant’s regalia, a special ceremony is required, and this is a sacred component that calls for solemnity. In general, though, Nahanee says, the powwow is an opportunity for First Nations people to share their culture among themselves, across generations and geographical divides, and with non-Indigenous guests. “Everyone’s invited,” she says. *