Don't opt out: click here to learn more about our work.

In Photos: U of T’s 2019 Honouring Our Students Pow Wow

The ISSU held its third annual Pow Wow on March 16

In Photos:  U of T’s 2019 Honouring Our Students Pow Wow

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union hosts UTSC’s first Indigenous conference and traditional Pow Wow

“I’m really proud,” said UTSC Indigenous Elder Wendy Phillips

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union hosts UTSC’s first Indigenous conference and traditional Pow Wow

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) made history this year by hosting UTSC’s first-ever traditional Pow Wow and Indigenous conference, Indig-U-Know. Stretching from March 9–10, the event brought students, staff, and faculty together to learn more about the Indigenous community through stories, knowledge, and wisdom. The conference also featured panels, keynote lectures, and workshops.

A Pow Wow is an Indigenous celebration of culture through activities such as dancing, singing, eating, and buying and selling crafts. Non-Indigenous people are also welcome to attend.

UTSC’s Pow Wow took place on March 10 in the newly-built Highland Hall Event Centre, where Indigenous adults and children gathered in their regalia, ranging from colourful and patterned attire, to those decorated with fur and feathers, or adorned with beads.

Booths lined the walls of the centre, selling crafts, trinkets, and garments. Spotted around the venue were also various pieces of luggage packed with regalia, as some of the participants had come from as far as Alberta.

In the middle of the room was the drum circle, where musicians sang and played a big drum to accompany dancers.

The first dance before the Grand Entry was the Grass Dance. According to the event’s Master of Ceremonies Bob Goulais, the Grass Dance “resembles the beautiful, flowing grass that grows on the Great Plains” and blesses the grounds to make them ready for the other dancers.

At 1:00 pm, the audience rose for the Grand Entry, when celebrants, dancers, and dignitaries paraded and officially began the Pow Wow.

Some members of the SCSU helped carry flags during the parade, including President Nicole Brayiannis, Vice-President Campus Life Ankit Bahl, and Vice-President Academics & University Affairs Ayaan Abdulle.

UTSC’s Indigenous Elder, Wendy Phillips, spoke at the podium. She acknowledged the SCSU and thanked them for their work with the Pow Wow, adding that she hoped this event could be another way to reconciliation.

“I would just like to say how proud I am of [the SCSU],” said Phillips. “It was [SCSU’s] vision of supporting Indigenous communities… and this was one of the events that the SCSU wished to do for our community. I’m really proud.”

Wisdom Tettey, Vice-President and Principal of UTSC, also addressed participants. “On behalf of our university, I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of you,” said Tettey. “[This event hopes] to foster true reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples in our social structures.”

Following that, the Welcome Song was played by Young Spirit, a drum group made up of both Canadian and American members. Earlier this year, Young Spirit performed a Cree round dance song on the Grammy Awards red carpet in Los Angeles.

SCSU representatives, Dean of Student Affairs Desmond Pouyat, and Tettey also joined the Welcome Song dance performance.

According to Head Dancer Chop Waindubence, “This isn’t a ceremony, this is celebrating life.”

Bahl and Abdulle also spoke on behalf of the SCSU. “Indig-U-Know represents the student union’s commitment to continue to honour the first people’s land,” said Bahl. “We hope to be able to continue this tradition as we continue to fight for access to education.”

Indig-U-Know was carried out by the SCSU with assistance from Phillips, Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff, faculty, students, and student disability groups.

Hundreds attend third annual Pow Wow at UTSG

Indigenous Studies Students’ Union celebration included food, dance, vendors

Hundreds attend third annual Pow Wow at UTSG

The Indigenous Studies Students’ Union (ISSU) held its third annual Pow Wow at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport on March 16. It was a stunning celebration of Indigenous cultures. The event was brought back in 2017 after a 20-year hiatus and featured food, vendors, and traditional dances that attendees were encouraged to join. 

The event started with a Grand Entry, in which participants carried flags representing the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people, as well as the flags of Canada, the United States, and U of T. This was followed by a march for military veterans, which any attending veterans were encouraged to participate in. 

In an interview with The Varsity, fourth-year Indigenous Studies and Equity Studies student Chantell Jackson emphasized the importance of these celebratory events. “Every year it needs to be done because it just brings knowledge of Indigenous culture and community to a place like U of T, where you don’t often see a lot of diversity,” Jackson said. “It definitely draws on the positive parts of Indigenous culture and community, and I think that’s what not only U of T students but the community as a whole need to learn.” 

Master of Ceremonies Bob Goulais stopped on two separate occasions to acknowledge the tragedy that occured in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, when 50 people were killed in shootings at two separate mosques in an apparent act of white supremacist terrorism. Goulais said that the Indigenous community stands in solidarity with the Muslim community during this time of mourning. 

Participating in Pow Wows is not something that Indigenous people were always able to do because of Canada’s settler-colonial system. In 1876, the Indian Act restricted participation in traditional Indigenous ceremonies and prevented Indigenous people from wearing traditional regalia. 

In 1921, Indian Affairs Minister Duncan Campbell Scott banned dancing on reserves, and Pow Wows only gained resurgence in North America starting in the 1960s with Indigenous rights movements. 

“It’s really important that we’re doing this, and covering all this music and dance,” Head Male Dancer and U of T professor Amos Key Jr. told The Varsity. “A lot of it just went underground; we didn’t do it publicly. That’s why I think it’s really important for us.”

“It’s healthy to move. It’s healthy for your heart and for your love of the heart; it’s all good,” Key told The Varsity. “I can’t imagine our people 100 years ago when we were dancing every night. That’s why they outlawed it, because the colonizers didn’t realize how important it was for health.” 

The recent Indian Day School settlement was brought up toward the end of the event to recognize Indigenous victories. In this settlement from the federal government, survivors of federally-run schools, many of which were established in northern Canada, received up to $200,000 as reparation for the abuse and neglect they experienced. 

Many of the attendees stressed the importance of these types of events in bringing awareness to Indigenous issues and bridging the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. 

“I think these events are important because it shows that U of T cares about Indigenous students, and it shows Indigenous peoples that they can be a student here,” Head Female Dancer Myopin Cheechoo said in an interview with The Varsity. 

ISSU Membership Support Coordinator Ziigwen Mixemong spoke to The Varsity about the value that Indigenous celebrations have to her and the community as a whole. 

“To me, it’s just a place that I can really unapologetically [be] Indigenous at an institution such as U of T. A hundred years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to even walk on this campus, let alone be in full regalia and be at a Pow Wow… Being able to even just dance in it, even just organize it, is a tremendous honour that I have,” Mixemong said.

“I often think that people who come from mainstream society, who are settlers, often feel this tremendous amount of guilt over what has happened, and I always say that it’s not about the guilt. It’s about the fact that we have inherited this history, and what do we do with it now?”

Indigenous Studies Students’ Union holding third annual Pow Wow today

Free event will feature food, dancing, celebration of Indigenous culture

Indigenous Studies Students’ Union holding third annual Pow Wow today

The Indigenous Studies Students’ Union (ISSU) will be holding its third annual Pow Wow today at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport beginning at 11:00 am. In anticipation of the event, ISSU executives sat down with The Varsity to explain more about what students can expect from this celebration of Indigenous culture.

After a more than 20-year hiatus, the Pow Wow was brought back to U of T in 2017 as a way for the university to honour Indigenous students, as well as to provide an opportunity for the community “to get involved and learn a little bit more about Indigenous culture than just colonization,” said Chantell Jackson, a fourth-year student and ISSU executive member.

A Pow Wow really is just a big celebration,” said second-year Indigenous student and ISSU executive member Samantha Giguere. “It’s a place to come and have a good time and just enjoy Indigenous culture and tradition.”

The Pow Wow will feature food stands, craft vendors, drum groups, and dancers in a long celebration from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. After 6:00 pm, the event will move to Hart House for a feast hosted in the Great Hall. The entire event is free of charge.

All of the executive members emphasized that students should go to the Pow Wow expecting to have fun, to dance, and to eat good food.

“Everyone should come and expect to be welcomed, to participate, and to leave hopefully with their bellies full,” said Jackson.

The Pow Wow is organized with the help of volunteers and partners from all over Toronto and across the U of T community, and has received donations and support over the years from groups such as New College and the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education.

When asked why students should go to the Pow Wow, third-year student and ISSU executive member Daisy Enright said that, as a non-Indigenous person, the event helped her to gain a better understanding of her role as a “colonizer on this land.”

“[The Pow Wow is] so beautiful to see and there’s no way to describe it. Even pictures don’t do it justice,” said Enright. “I think everybody in their lifetime should go to a Pow Wow at least once. And if you’re at U of T, why not go to U of T’s Pow Wow.”

Adding to Enright’s comments, Giguere said that the Pow Wow acts as a reminder that “Indigenous people are very much still here and the culture is still very alive and vibrant.”

“This Indigenous celebration and Indigenous space belongs within the institution of U of T… It’s not an outside thing that is adjacent to U of T. It belongs within this place.”

In Photos: UTSC’s Indig-U-Know Pow Wow

UTSC held its first Pow Wow on March 10

In Photos: UTSC’s Indig-U-Know Pow Wow

In Photos: The Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation’s 32nd Annual Pow Wow

In Photos: The Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation’s 32nd Annual Pow Wow

Hosted by the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, the Three Fires Homecoming Pow Wow and Traditional Gathering took place on August 25 and 26. For the 32nd time since 1987, the host nation welcomed families, friends, and guests to celebrate Indigenous culture, spirituality, and solidarity within their community.

I attended the Pow Wow on August 25 – as an immigrant, a student, and a guest on the land of the Mississaugas of the New Credit.

The theme of the Pow Wow was “Our Story: Water is Life.” Water is a sacred being within the spiritual and legal tradition of the Mississaugas of the New Credit; a fundamental tenet of human life.

Above the flurry of bright colours and the booming sound of drums, Pow Wow leaders urged guests to consider the value of mutual respect. Respect includes land and tradition; it includes respect for the privilege of being invited into a community. It also includes respect for oneself. Respect and care for one’s own body, spirit, and emotions is a prerequisite to caring for others.

When communities of all walks came together for the Pow Wow in August, the result was compassion, and that is something to celebrate.



“Unapologetically Indigenous”: ISSU holds second annual Pow Wow on campus

Honouring Our Students Pow Wow returns after successful first year

“Unapologetically Indigenous”: ISSU holds second annual Pow Wow on campus

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“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.