Having long since outgrown the Prince Charles Secondary School gymnasium, the School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake) youth powwow returns to the Creston and District Community Complex for a third year on Friday, with grand entries at 9:30 a.m. and 12:15 p.m.
The public is welcome at the sixth annual event on May 20 — made possible by a Columbia Basin Trust grant, and SD8 funding — when students from SD8’s Aboriginal education program will be joined by youth from other Kootenay communities, as well as Alberta and the U.S. (Photos from 2014 here and 2015 here.)
The students won’t be alone. Creston’s Aboriginal education team has invited Armed Forces veterans from the Ktunaxa Nation, honouring them for their service and for being positive role models.
“We live in a safe place,” said Josie Fullarton, the Adam Robertson Elementary School youth worker. “We live in a place that accepts what we do.”
That wasn’t always the case, with cultural practices outlawed and lost through the residential school system.
“Even the Ktunaxa people here had to sneak off into the woods to do this,” said Janet Zarchukoff, Erickson Elementary School’s youth worker.
In many First Nations families, their traditions have skipped a generation, and SD8’s self-identified Aboriginal students — which comprise 15 per cent of the district’s students — are excited to learn about their language, history and culture. And they’re passing that on to their parents, who didn’t have the same opportunity.
“So many families have had such a break, they don’t know where to start,” said Zarchukoff. “They’re teaching an older generation.”
“They’re opening doors that were shut,” said Fullarton.
Aboriginal students at all Creston schools have been creating their own regalia since the powwow began, and Canyon-Lister Elementary School’s students took it a step farther, building their own drum with the help of Wynndel’s Raven Bear Drums.
“It’s important to build bridges between our cultures,” said Julie Draper, who owns the business with Michael White. “The more we learn about each other, the more everyone benefits.”
The drum, she said, represents the heartbeat.
“That’s all we hear for the first nine months, our mothers’ heartbeat,” she said. “Being part of a drum circle brings us back to that.”
Caring for the drum, and honouring the animal used to make it — moose hide is stretched over the frame — allows the students to learn even more.
“People are encouraged to to leave anger or whatever is upsetting them behind, and just have good thoughts,” said Draper. “The hide will absorb all that.”
The drum will be “awakened” in a special ceremony during the powwow’s afternoon session, and new dancers will be welcomed in a morning ceremony — which means students and teachers will learn and experience new traditions right through the event.
“The purpose is to educate students, and staff as well,” said Zarchukoff.