The Grand River Powwow on Six Nations territory near Brantford Ontario is a celebration of Aboriginal Culture. Witness the proud tradition in person.
The toddler can barely stand up, let alone dance. Every few seconds, he topples over, and the feather in the band in his hair slips sideways. Each time, his dad laughs, picks him up, and sets him on his feet again. Then they resume their dance. The tiny dancer is just one of roughly 400 competitors at the Champion of Champions Powwow. The weekend event, which has been held every summer since 1980, attracts thousands of visitors from Aboriginal nations all over “Turtle Island” (the Native term for North America). You don't have to be of Aboriginal heritage to attend; everyone is warmly welcomed.
The setting for the Grand River powwow is Chiefswood Park on the Six Nations reserve near Brantford Ontario. Nearby is Chiefswood, the home of Mohawk poet Pauline Johnson. The stage is a circle surrounded by bleachers. Embedded in one part of the bleachers is a platform for the musicians—a who’s who of singing and drumming groups from all across Turtle Island. Among them the Master of Ceremonies sits, “calling the play” and cracking jokes.
The ceremony opens with the Grand Entry. Elders, many of whom are war veterans, carry the flags and the eagle feather into the circle. It’s a solemn moment. Prayers are offered to the Creator, and the audience collectively honours the ancestors.
Soon, the competitions commence. With prizes ranging from $100 to $1,000, sets are organized according to dance type, age and gender. Drum tempos rise and fall. Voices chant. Young men spin by at dazzling speed. A stately older woman in buckskin dress taps gently on the earth in moccasin-clad feet. When it comes to style, this powwow outshines Paris runways. Dancers dress in traditional feathers, beads, leather, and shells, all artistically woven by hand. One acoustically-pleasing outfit is the "jingle dress", made up of hundreds of tiny silver cones that "jingle" when the dancer moves. Fancy shawl performers seem to paint the tunes on the air as their coloured fringes streak by. Several of the younger crowd daringly deck themselves out in neon orange, lime green, hot pink and electric blue.
When free dancing breaks up the competition sets, the audience pours down to join in the fun. At any moment, a hundred or more might be swaying in the circle—young and old, Native and non-Native. The competitions last hours. There’s a casual feel to it all; people come and go from the bleachers as they please. If you’re hungry or thirsty, follow your nose to the stalls and try some fry bread, deer meat, corn soup, tacos or fresh strawberry juice. Or wander over to the shady trees along the edge of the Grand River, where you’ll find about 100 vendors selling hand-crafted jewellery, clothing, crafts, books and music CDs. What a great opportunity to learn more about Aboriginal culture and take home a souvenir of a special event.
For more information:
Grand River Champion of Champions Powwow
Six Nations Reserve near Brantford Ontario