By Ryan Suzuki
The youth of Migisi Sahgaigan are reclaiming their identity and culture. This year Migisi Sahgaigan First Nation was awarded funding by the Laidlaw Foundation to undertake a cultural revitalization program called Reclaiming Our Identity. The concept was for youth to visit cultural events in the region, with the guidance and support of elders.
I was asked to join the group going to the Shakopee Powwow in Minnesota. As a Community Media Trainer for the Indigenous Reporter’s program, I jumped at the opportunity, as it seemed like a great way to share media knowledge with community members. The journey to Shakopee was a wonderful way to build relationships and spend time with these delightful community members.
25 of us piled into a big comfy coach, and headed on an adventure. We drove 2 hours to the American border and passed through with relative ease. I was interested to learn that Indigenous people carrying their treaty card cannot legally be refused entry at the border. We travelled all day on the big highways, and the landscape transitioned from forests and lakes to flyovers and metropolitan development. The scale of the construction projects in Minneapolis surprised many of us. We were no longer in the quiet Indigenous community that we call home.
Upon arriving to Shakopee, the wealth of the first nation was evident. The Mystic Lake Casino, which we were staying at, was huge and glamourous. Rising from its roof was a monumental teepee form, made from beams of light.
This is one of the most affluent Indigenous communities in North America. It is inspiring to see an Indigenous community that is so economically powerful and self-determining. Indigenous community members are the owners of Shakopee’s institutions, and it is mainly non-Indigenous people working at them. The casino generates a sizable volume of their income.
The powwow that Shakopee First Nation hosted was a competition powwow. It was large, and we had to take shuttle buses to get there. The powwow grounds resembled a stadium, with big bleachers surrounding the dancing area and giant halogen lights that I would expect to see at a football game. The dancers came from all directions, and their regalia was very elaborate. Andrea Jourdain, who was part of our group from Migisi Sahgaigan, explained to me the components of the regalia that signify which region each dancer was from. The southern-style regalia below, can be identified by the beadwork, crown-like head piece faced with a vertical front section, light colours and lack of a bustle.
There were also drummers and singers from many different regions of Turtle Island, each with a distinctive style. A competition powwow is very different from a traditional powwow. I was familiar with Migisi Sahgaigan’s traditional powwow, which I attended this summer, but I had never been to a competition powwow. A competition powwow feels less spiritually focused, and more oriented toward dancing, singing, drumming and regalia-making skills. Both powwow formats are beautiful expressions of Indigenous culture.
Artisans and vendors travel the powwow circuit, selling their wares alongside the powwows. They have some beautiful items, which can be used for ceremony, regalia, or simply as home décor or clothing. I found a gorgeous Pendleton hat that I could not resist buying. I have been looking for the perfect hat for more than a year, and this was the one.
The Ojibway territory was established long before the U.S.A.-Canada border. Many family and community ties span the border, and powwows are a great way to connect with relatives living in neighboring communities.
On this journey, I shared photography skills with youth from Migisi Sahgaigan, and they shared their knowledge with me. Together, we shared an amazing trip to Shakopee Powwow.