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Excerpt: The Powwow Trail


By Colette Derworiz

Highlighting an Aboriginal tradition that may play an important role in Canada’s journey towards reconciliation.


A group of men sit around a large, hide-covered drum, hitting it with large sticks to keep the rhythm. “Hey-ya, hey-ya, hey-ya, hey…,” they sing, as dancers wearing brightly coloured regalia and headdresses decorated with intricate beadwork and eagle feathers enter the gymnasium. A crowd watches from the bleachers set up on one side. Some people tap their toes to the music and others take photos as the dancers move their feet to the beating drum.

It’s the Grand Entry – the official opening – of the Akinmi Powwow, a traditional Aboriginal gathering, in Cranbrook.

Led by an elder and several flag carriers hoisting flags of the Ktunaxa Nation, Canada and the United States, a procession of the local chief and council, men, women and children makes its way to the dance floor. “Come on in, dancers, come on in. Dancers, show your moves,” master of ceremonies Mike Sanchez bellows into a microphone. The melodic singing and steady beat of the drum reverberate across the gymnasium, like a heartbeat.

Each powwow has a similar beginning.

Powwows, celebrations that can last one day or several days, are held by First Nations communities across Western Canada throughout the summer and into the fall every year.

“When you are drumming, when you are singing your songs, you are happy,” explains Tom Crane Bear, a Siksika (Blackfoot) elder who has worked to bring the powwow back to Banff. “They are not war songs, they are praising songs of a spirit greater than you, so you are now celebrating the gift of life from this great spirit – that’s why we have powwows.”

They are open to everyone, including non-Aboriginal people from any culture. […]

→ Check out The Powwow Trail: Web Listings and Resources to find a powwow near you.

→ Keep reading this piece in Volume 3 of the Canadian Rockies Annual

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Colette Derworiz is an award-winning journalist who has covered environment, social issues and politics at the Calgary Herald and freelanced for Hakai Magazine, Maclean’s and Science. In December 2017, Derworiz joined The Canadian Press.

The views and opinions expressed in the articles on are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editor, the editorial team or the publishers.

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