Chelsea Statham, First Voices

Recently on Wednesday September 15th, a group of aboriginal students and their two advocates, Don Dionne and Steve Kelly, attended a PowWow. A PowWow is a North American Aboriginal ceremony involving singing, dancing, and feasting. Although First Nations people have been living on Canadian soil for over twelve thousand years, the majority of Canadians are uneducated and unaware of the importance of these ceremonies. Across Canada there are currently 634 recognized governments (or bands) spread across Canada, and approximately a quarter of that number is located in our home, British Columbia. I personally was excited to be a part of this piece.

Before sitting down with a few students at Kelowna Secondary School, I was able to speak with Steve Kelly, the newest advocate here in the home of the Owls.  Mr.Kelly`s Aboriginal background is the Lillooet band, but he grew up not far from here in Salmon Arm, Shuswap nation.

“First fives years of my life I lived on a reservation, then we got too busy with school and sports,” he said. Mr. Kelly is eager to face the new challenge at KSS after spending the last eight years supporting the Aboriginal program at Rutland Secondary. The sole purpose of retaining an Aboriginal program at schools, he’s says, “is to help every aboriginal child with ancestors at school, and hopefully have a direction and a purpose of where they are going when they graduate high school.”

Ashlyn Burrows, a Grade 10 student who has never been to a PowWow until now, was excited to learn more about her culture and ethnicity. The young teen with a Métis/Cree background was thrilled to share this first time experience with other students involved in the program, which included performances by several famous aboriginal dancers.

I jumped at the opportunity to not only talk to a few students before and after their presentations, but to also experience the event myself.  During the dances, the drums pounded in your chest. Although I was a stranger, people were very willing to accept me and the reason for my visit. I was especially touched when a man offered me food.   I was a stranger to him, but he treated me as a friend.

After the crowds had dispersed, I interviewed a few of the KSS attendees.   Berry Winkenhiser, a Grade 11 student, who had attended two PowWow`s prior to this one, described the atmosphere as “family like.”  He was excited that this PowWow had tents set up for job opportunities and other interesting activities.

Both Barry and Ashlyn agreed their favourite thing at the PowWow was the food! “The Bannock!” they both said.

Overall, the group of KSS students and advocates loved having a PowWow so close to home, and are excited to attend more in the future!