U of T’s Indigenous Studies Students’ Union (ISSU) hosted its second annual “Honouring Our Students Pow Wow” at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport on March 11. Spectators, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, gathered in the gymnasium to watch drummers and dancers, purchase art and merchandise from vendors, and participate in the overall atmosphere.
Highlights of the event included performances from Aztec dancers and Métis jiggers, as well as the Grand Entry, which featured dancers and flag bearers from various stakeholder communities involved in the powwow.
The powwow benefitted from the help of approximately 40 volunteers. Volunteer Coordinator and ISSU Membership Intake/Outreach Coordinator Olivia Miller told The Varsity that some volunteers had to drop out at the last minute due to extenuating circumstances, though other volunteers recruited friends to lend a hand. “It’s been this really great unifying effort,” said Miller.
Additionally, the ISSU received funding from colleges and departments across campus that contributed to the $24,550 powwow budget. ISSU Finance Coordinator Joshua Bowman said that New College contributed a significant amount. Among the major costs associated with the powwow were honoraria for dancers, drummers, and featured groups such as the Métis jiggers and Aztec dancers, which Bowman described as a way of paying respect to the gift those groups gave to the powwow.
Bowman praised colleges and departments who helped support the powwow. “A lot of us are all students in those colleges, so it was really just about supporting their own Indigenous students.” He added that many of the finances associated with the venue were covered in good faith.
Support for the powwow from across the university was a reflection of the community, added Bowman. “There is a larger amount of non-Indigenous students than Indigenous students, but at the end of the day what we like to remind people is that we’re all treaty people.”
Bowman described the Two Row Wampum, which represents one row for Indigenous people and one for non-Indigenous people. In between the two rows is a covenant chain, which Bowman said begins to rust over time. “So when we come together at events like this we’re polishing the covenant chain,” said Bowman.
The ISSU’s Membership Support Coordinator, Ziigwen Mixemong, was featured as the powwow’s Head Female Dancer and credited the ISSU for giving her a space to be “unapologetically Indigenous.”
“The powwow has just been a way that I’ve been able to use my gifts and my knowledge and bring that forth, and everyone else is able to bring their gifts and their knowledge and plurality of wisdoms that has helped develop this event,” Mixemong told The Varsity.
“It’s amazing that we’re having our second powwow in only our third year. It’s come so far so fast, we’ve moved to a bigger and better venue and we are expecting so many people,” she added.
“It’s kind of like our version of a big party,” said Mixemong, explaining that powwows are traditionally a gathering of nations, referring to it as an “intercultural interaction.”
Canada’s federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, was in attendance, though she did not come as a dignitary as she did the previous year. Mixemong explained that politicians and dignitaries were welcome to attend the powwow, though the focus of the powwow was a celebration of Indigenous people and culture.
“We live in what I like to call a post-reconciliation world where people are trying to use the term ‘reconciliation’ to Indigenize their efforts without actually making sure that it’s Indigenous thought that’s going into that collective process of making an event,” said Mixemong.
Last year, the ISSU hosted the first powwow at U of T in over 20 years at the Athletic Centre. “When I enrolled in university, I never thought this would be a possibility,” said Bowman. “But now this is our second annual one and I don’t see us stopping anytime soon.”
For a brief time during the powwow, up to seven police cruisers were parked outside the Goldring Centre. Police were responding to a call of “a possible imminent threat to an individual who has a matter before the courts right now,” said Toronto Police Sergeant Aiello. “The individual was a victim and she saw the individual that is before the courts right now on allegations. She feared for her safety, and because of his instabilities we feared for the safety of the individuals here at the powwow.”
Police searched the building and dispersed after realizing the individual was not present. The victim was transported home to safety.