Dancers dressed in full regalia were welcomed into the circle with the thundering sound of drums intertwined with the voices of singers.
There was a grand entry, welcoming First Nation leaders, P.E.I. government dignitaries, veterans, police, and registered dancers into the circle. In a clockwise motion, the group slowly stepped to the beat of the drum – the universal heartbeat of Mother Earth – for the Lennox Island First Nation’s 19th annual powwow, Saturday afternoon.
“We are just starting to dig deeper into the meaning behind the Mi’kmaq dancers and their songs. The Mi’kmaq had a song and teaching for everything that happened in their life. If there was a wedding, they had a song, if there was a death, they brought the body up to the house with song. It’s all about respect,” said chief Darlene Bernard.
Dancers with bells on their skirts jingled like rain while they stomped and twirled around the circle.
“The jingle dress dancers bring prayers. They are the dancers that pray for us and the people, so you can go to a jingle dress dancer and hand her tobacco and she will pray for you while she dances,” said Bernard.
“But there are all types of regalia, and they all mean something to the dancer. We have the male grass dancer who brings a traditional story to the circle. Back when we would move around our districts for hunting, we carried portable wigwams. These male dancers would stamp down the grass while thanking the Creator for this place to put our home for the day,” Bernard said about their stomp, with always one foot on the ground.
“We celebrate these stories of our proud history through our dancers and colourful, descriptive language. These events are imperative, they teach our children culture, food, traditions, and great language. We need to teach our kids their beautiful traditional language that’s been changed through time, our history is locked in the traditional Mi’kmaq language and if I can learn it, anyone can,” she added.
Victor Levi, from Cape Breton, came dressed in all the bells and whistles.
“The feathers on my back are eagle feathers and I got them as a gift from an elder that was dancing in a powwow. Over the years, I have been gathering feathers,” he said, noting that to be gifted an eagle feather is a huge honour.
“The eagle flies the highest, and closest to the creator, so when we have a feather and we are praying and doing the smudge, we raise the eagle feathers up to the sky. While all animals have meaning and are revered in our culture, the eagle is the most sacred animal – honoured in all First Nations across the world,” said Bernard.
Included in Levi’s regalia is a round deer hide shield, with a variety of painted symbols.
“The deer hide was a gift, but I painted on the symbols. One is a veteran and warrior sign, one means water, the seven dots represent the seven districts of our nation, and the two handprints belong to my son. I’m dancing for my son to carry on this tradition, so he can pass our history down through the generations,” he said.
The powwow is like an annual family reunion said Levi.
“When people come to this Mi’kmaq celebration they come to see ‘Mi’gma’gi.’ You will see Mi’kmaq people here and how they celebrate their culture. There are many First Nation tribes, but this celebration on Lennox Island is unique to us, and as leaders, we need to do more to ensure we are practicing and teaching Mi’kmaq,” concluded Bernard.