Tea & Bannock: Let the children dance

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Over the past weeks, many people gave me feedback on my columns, especially youth. I’m happy my words echo throughout the territory because it makes me feel closer to my people. A lot of you are asking me to write about certain topics and, of course, I was asked to share my opinion on the Waskaganish powwow. As a powwow dancer myself, I feel particularly challenged by this whole debate, but the issue is greater than that.

I could tell you in graphic detail why I chose sobriety and about my drug-and alcohol abuse that lasted 12 years, but I’m trying to move beyond that. I’m trying to talk about my healing instead of my hardships and powwow dancing has allowed me to do that even though I’m fairly new to it.

When I dance, I tell a story of pride, resilience and strength. The feeling I get when I’m dancing is one of the many reasons why I finally want to live after so many years of being miserable. What we call the “Red Road” has become the key to my wellbeing. A powwow has a sobriety component to it that makes it a healthy and positive lifestyle, and we are taught to respect those protocols and teachings.

Making my regalia itself was a challenge as I had to learn the basics of sewing. The colours and the patterns have a meaning behind it and some of them are a tribute to my family and my territory. It is important because every minute I spend sewing my powwow regalia, beading or doing embroidery is time I invest in my sobriety. Every minute I spend on honouring this traditional craftsmanship passed down to me by nuhkum, my aunts and my friends is time invested in the continuity of our culture.

Crees of Eeyou Istchee spent 23 years drafting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and our leadership fully supported Bill C-262 to implement the Declaration in Canada. I’m wondering why our leaders have gone quiet in Waskaganish powwow case, after a battle of 34 years to define our basic human rights on a national and international level with the Declaration.

Such lateral violence is a legacy of colonialism and I expected more leaders to stand with the organizers of that powwow. Article 8 of the declaration states that “Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.” It was intentional not to mention the state, as some churches are fully involved in the destruction of our cultures and spiritual beliefs.

Article 12 is also relevant in this case. It states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practise, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects.” This one is pretty self-explanatory. When you look at the fundamental freedoms section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the first to be listed is “the freedom of conscience and religion”. Oh, and the tallyman said yes! If camp meetings are allowed, why can’t we have a powwow?

In Waskaganish, I will not dance in anger and confrontation. I will dance in solidarity with Susan and Virginia, I will dance to honour the ones before me who fought so I could dance and I will laugh because laughter is medicine.

I faced too much discrimination from non-Natives to accept the same discrimination coming from my own people. I know for a fact this way of life had a positive impact on me, but also on my family, and it showed my parents that they didn’t just pass down trauma to me. I wish healing upon everyone who opposed that powwow. You truly need it.

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