There's the thumping of a drum, a blur of colour and muted moccasins hit the earth as First Nation dancers thrill thousands of tourists.
This is the excitement of powwow dancing as seen through the eyes of First Nations and Métis culture. And once again The Spirit Within, Poundmaker Lodge's annual powwow returns Aug. 16 and 17.
It is a festivity that combines many elements – an intense competition, a celebratory gathering of nations, a memorial of those past, and a reaffirmation of native culture.
“It's a healing for our people and a coming together, an opportunity to come together in a positive way,” says Sara Cardinal, community engagement coordinator at Poundmaker Lodge and one of the powwow's major organizers.
The two-day event, eager to preserve First Nations culture, attracts about 3,000 people from across North America eager to take part in or enjoy traditional singing, dancing and drumming.
Native Indian singing comes straight from the heart and interweaves the spiritual realm with the everyday world. The drum songs are part of an oral tradition filled with inner meanings that are passed from generation to generation, and are thought to be a natural gift from the Creator.
Singers, dancers and drummers spend years leading a clean lifestyle and learning and specializing within their craft.
“Over the years, they turn professional and go on the powwow trail,” said Poundmaker addictions counsellor Robert Johnson.
This year an intense drum competition with a first place prize of $12,000 will be held. The second place winner receives $6,000 in prize money and the third place recipient takes home $4,000.
“This is the first time in a number of years we're hosting a drum contest. We're hoping it attracts large groups, for instance Northern Cree. I think they're Juno Award winners. They're a very powerful group,” Johnson said.
In addition to the ambitious drum competition, there will be five dance specials with a $1,000 prize whereby the winner takes all.
Spectators can expect to see everything from women's traditional and fancy dances to the healing jingle dance where metallic cones are attached to intricately beaded costumes.
Men will perform the traditional warrior dances, the purifying grass dance and the ceremonial chicken dance.
Possibly the most significant powwow event is a grand entry held twice daily at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. During the entry, old warriors are paid homage.
“We honour the old warriors and old soldiers from all old conflicts. Without them we would not be able to practice our culture,” said Johnson. Veterans from the great wars as well as Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) have been recognized.
All nationalities are invited to attend, to join in the dancing and experience First Nation culture through storytelling, food and a vibrant marketplace filled with crafts.
“We Cree believe and accept people of all colours. A powwow is not just for us, but for all. We encourage everyone to attend.”
A powwow protocol pamphlet to assist visitors in respecting boundaries will be available.