“The first time I set foot on campus was at the spring powwow eight years ago,” current powwow co-ordinator Grace Redhead-Clarke says over coffee in the Aboriginal Student Lounge.
Now in her second year of an education degree, Redhead-Clarke, 27, is balancing her studies with the organizing duties involved in the annual powwow. The event, which takes place March 28 at the Duckworth Centre, also acts as a graduation ceremony for the university’s aboriginal students.
Beginning as a small student-run community powwow, the event is now backed not only by the Aboriginal Student Council (ASC) but also by the Aboriginal Student Services Centre (ASSC) as well as the University of Winnipeg (U of W). It has grown from featuring a handful of dancers to 90 adult dancers, youth and tiny-tots categories.
“It’s important to honour the work that the students have done,” Redhead-Clarke, who is from Shamattawa First Nation, explains. “I know for some it’s a struggle and I don’t think people always realize how difficult it can be to have to leave your home community to come to school. It can be a lot of effort to finish.”
Before 2011, aboriginal graduates would trek to the University of Manitoba to take part in their powwow ceremony. But as the powwow on the downtown campus grew, the U of W began to recognize the weight of the event.
And with mandatory indigenous studies classes on the university’s horizon, the theme of this year’s powwow - “Indigenizing Education” - couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I think [the theme] is about embracing more opportunities to indigenous content, more students, more scholars, more conversations and creating more spaces where we can celebrate things in a different way,” U of W president and vice-chancellor Dr. Annette Trimbee says. “Also encouraging both indigenous and non-indigenous involvement in these activities.”
“Things change when what was perceived to be new and different is then perceived to be normal.”
For spring graduate Crystal Brown, 37, taking part in the ceremony is important in many ways.
“Having this powwow to be the last celebration is significant on that personal level,” Brown, who will receive a bachelor of arts in Indigenous Studies, says.
Originally setting out for a kinesiology degree, a first year Indigenous Studies class resonated with Brown, who hadn’t even registered with ASC. According to Brown, the class got her on a path to rediscovering who she was and redirected her spiritually.
“I feel that I’ve grown so much and it’s the perfect way to leave the U of W and the friends and families that I’ve built here. It’s very important and very special to me to do it this way.”
The powwow is momentous not only for graduates, but for the powwow community and young people in the West End. For youth, including Redhead-Clarke when she first came to campus, the powwow marks a significant connection between campus and community life.
“We try to get youth in as volunteers, shadowing other student workers and chatting about the University and
The 13th Spring Powwow will take place March 28 from 1 - 9 p.m. in the Duckworth Centre. All are welcome and encouraged to attend.
Published in Volume 69, Number 24 of The Uniter (March 11, 2015)