Niimuuhiikan offers a more personal powwow

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August 19 and 20 marked a weekend of celebration in Mistissini, with the 2017 version of the Niimuuhiikan powwow rolling smoothly and taking place outside on the land despite some inclement weather.

JBCCS Executive Director Luke MacLeod said that the committee was well prepared for rain this year, setting up a large tent on the powwow site that kept dancers, vendors and spectators dry on Saturday but also allowed for everyone to spread out on the powwow grounds once conditions improved the following day.

“Actually it went really well,” MacLeod told the Nation. “It’s one of those things you spend a lot of time preparing for but you never really know what’s going to happen. Immediately we found there was a problem with the weather, so we rented a large circus tent – we absolutely wanted to have [the powwow] outside.”

MacLeod said that an open-air event provides a better experience for everyone involved.

“The people who participate enjoy it much more outside on the land, even the vendors,” he explained. “Saturday we had rain but Sunday was a really great day, the weather really turned in our favour.”

For MacLeod and other Niimuuhiikan organizers, the Mistissini powwow is about celebrating culture and sharing traditions with the younger generation. Niimuuhiikan places more emphasis on sharing than it does on competition.

“Our powwow is more of a celebration that brings people together,” he said. “Our Elders who have been to bigger powwows say that they like that – it’s more personal. We don’t do a lot of competitions; the main thing is to show our youth and our people that there are other paths that they can go on to keep away from things that might be harmful to them.”

MacLeod believes that the powwow strengthens their identity as Indigenous youth and while helping them steer clear of the pitfalls of alcohol and drugs.

“People in our community who have started drumming and dancing have been able to stay away from things like drugs and alcohol,” he continued. “People who have gone down that path before are able to share their experiences and how they were able to get away from that [negative lifestyle].”

Featured at this year’s Mistissini celebration were the Bear Creek drum group – Ojibwe drummers who came all the way from Sault Ste. Marie, the Eastern Sound Singers from Mashteuiatsh near Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean and Northern Voice from Wemotaci.

Jerry Hunter from Lac-Simon was the powwow’s head dancer, one of many Algonquins who made the trip for Niimuuhiikan, while Paula Menarick was the lead dancer for women. According to MacLeod, Menarick’s fancy shawl dancing and kind spirit had a lot of influence on the young people in attendance, especially young women, and he also mentioned a few Mistissini powwow regulars like Mary Coon and Doris Bosum who danced as well.

Rounding out the powwow team was emcee Gabriel Herodier from Chisasibi, who MacLeod hopes will be back again next year, as well as committee members Alice MacLeod, Pam MacLeod, Darling Wapachee and Justice Debassige, among others.

MacLeod estimated that there were around 70 dancers each day, over half of them comprised of youth from the host community. He also noted that the powwow welcomed 10-12 vendors on each of the two days, who enjoyed the fact that this year’s event took place outdoors.

“This year we didn’t have as many adults because there were other powwows scheduled at the same time that deflected some of our participants,” he noted.

Two other crucial elements of the Mistissini celebration were cultural exchange and arguably the best part of any Cree event: the community feast. Cree traditions were practiced and shared with other communities and First Nations individuals in attendance, while Alice MacLeod and her team prepared a large spread of traditional food.

“We did a walking-out ceremony once again and we had Jason Coonishish doing our hunters drum,” MacLeod said. “This community drum was used before hunting, after hunting, after a feast, as a celebration and for giving thanks. The vendors and the participants like that we include our traditions and share our own culture here in Mistissini every year.”

Finally, MacLeod thanked the organizations and sponsors that make Niimuuhiikan possible: the Cree Nation of Mistissini, CreeCo, Cree Outfitting Tourism Association, JBCCS, Meechum Store, Ace Hardware and many local individuals who organized bake sales and other fundraisers to make the Mistissini powwow a reality.

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