A Vibrant Celebrations of Indigenous Life
Are you interested in going to a powwow but not sure about going on your own? Thrive Tours, an Indigenous-owned and operated guide company, offers Learn to Powwow Tours in the Sault Ste. Marie area. These tours introduce non-Indigenous tourists to powwows and will teach you everything you need to know.
Our family was able to join Brad and Amanda, owners of Thrive Tours, on a Learn to Powwow Tour and had an incredible experience together! Our tour group included Sault Ste. Marie locals, Ontario tourists and travelers from around the world. We came together as a group of all ages to learn to powwow and experience a celebration of Indigenous culture.
Our tour began with an introduction to powwow history, tradition and etiquette. Our guides taught us the cleansing practice of smudging and invited us to participate in this traditional ceremony. Along with our guides, we also had special guests from the Indigenous community come and speak to us.
Experience a celebration of Indigenous culture
When settlers came in, the local Indigenous people were no longer allowed to practice their culture. The sacred ceremonies and songs had to continue deep in the bush and underground. Despite this oppression, the tradition and the heartbeat of the drum carried on and continues today. Although often looked on as traditions of the past, Brad shared with us that they “are not people of the past, but people with a past. [We] have an amazing history and an amazing future!”
During our introduction we were also honoured to have Chief Dean Sayers of Batchewana First Nations come and speak with us. He shared some of the history of the Indigenous people of the Sault Ste Marie area, also referred to as Bawating, meaning ‘place of the rapids’. Chief Sayers welcomed us to come on in and celebrate!
Learn Different types of powwow dancing
Lucia, who has been dancing at powwows since she was a young girl, shared with us the dos and don’ts of the powwow. She told us that it is customary to stand at the beginning of the powwow, as a sign of honour, while the dancers enter the circle during the Grand Entry. Taking photos and videos during the Grand Entry is not allowed, but Lucia shared with us the proper way to take photos at other points during the powwow.
Our guides explained to us the different types of powwow dancing and the significance of the dancers’ attire, called regalia. Our guide Brad is a powwow singer and drummer who has been powwowing for about 15 years. He shared with us the history and significance of drumming and how the beat of the drums honors the heartbeat of Mother Earth.
the sacred fire
After our time of learning we went as a group to the powwow. On our way to the circle we passed by the sacred fire. This fire is lit before the powwow starts and burns until the end. Fire keepers sit around the fire to make sure it continues burning. We honored them and the fire by putting tobacco in the fire and saying ‘Miigwetch’, which means ‘thank you’.
The powwow we attended, Gathering at the Rapids at Algoma University, was an indoor Competition Powwow (differing from a Traditional Powwow). There were a number of drum groups and dancers of all ages competing in different categories. As we entered the building, the Grand Entry was underway. We could feel the heartbeat of the drums resonate within us and stood as the dancers entered the circle. The intricate designs of the dancers’ regalia was amazing to see – bright colours, feathers, tassels, beading and jingling cones. After representatives carried in flags and veterans were honoured, the competition began.
We listened and watched as different drum groups took turns singing and drumming while the dancers made their way around the circle. We saw different categories of dances – traditional, jingle, grass, fancy – and watched as each age category took their turn, from the tiny tots to the golden age dancers. Our guides were available throughout the powwow to answer any questions we had and shared more information with us about the different dances.
Take part in inter tribal dances
One unique experience that we had not been expecting, was the opportunity to join in on the dancing! Throughout the powwow there are inter tribal dances, where everyone from every background is invited to come into the circle and dance. Our children have been learning about Indigenous culture and powwows in school and to actually be there and take part was a very special experience.
In addition to the drumming and dancing, there were also Indigenous vendors set up at the powwow. We admired the handmade goods, enjoyed some lemonade and ate delicious food!
As a non-Indigenous person, I’ve been hesitant about attending a powwow in the past. I didn’t know what the proper etiquette was and didn’t want to be disrespectful in any way. It was so great having our guides from Thrive Tours to show us around and answer all of our questions! The whole powwow environment was one of total inclusivity, positive energy and people coming together to celebrate!
Learn to Powwow Tours
There are several Powwows during spring and summer in and around Sault Ste. Marie, and if you are interested in going you’ll definitely want to check out Thrive Tours’ Learn to Powwow Tours. Learn about the history, people, food and traditions; dancers, drums, singers and teachings. Half or full day experiences are available. Contact Thrive Tours for more info.