Monday, March 21, 2011

5 - Connection

Two days after I learned of my connection to the Mi'kmaq people, it was time for me to return to the United States. I found myself disconnected. I only knew of The Bras d'Or First Nation website and I had practically memorized it. I was starving for information, and I decided to reach out to native organizations here in the states to see what I could learn.

I managed to find an organization here in Massachusetts called The Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness. They have a nice website: Their complete mission statement is on the site, but basically, it was developed to implement programs that serve the cultural and spiritual needs of Native Americans. They also assist their community with food, heating costs and scholarships. In addition, they provide wonderful programs to the public about Native American Culture.

As luck would have it, they were having a Powwow and the head dancer was a man named Don Barnaby. He is Mi'kmaq.

A Powwow is primarily a social gathering for native people, but the name comes from the Algonquin word pauwau meaning medicine person or spiritual leader. The Powwow was at one time a sacred ceremony.  Today these gatherings are open to the public. This is one of the best ways to experience some of the traditional displays of music and dance in Native Culture.

The structure for a Powwow can vary slightly, but it usually begins with a grand entry into the arena by various people. This may include  people such as organizers, Master of Ceremonies, Tribal Chiefs, elders and dancers.  They will carry flags and an eagle staff. Once everyone is in the arena, the honor song is sung. This song honors the flag and veterans. After the honor song, a prayer is usually said and then dancing resumes.

There are rules at powwows that are specific to the area of the nation where you attend and it is worth checking into this before you go, or at the very least, when you arrive. A good rule to remember is to be respectful. Many of the dances and ceremonies that are performed have spiritual significance and are not just happening for entertainment. If you do attend a Powwow, be careful what you record by video or camera, because some of the dances are sacred and should not be recorded. It is always respectful to ask people before you take their picture. The Master of Ceremonies may also say when picture taking is appropriate.

Powwows are spectacular. People participating will wear their full "regalia" or traditional dress. The dancers are accompanied by drums and singers. There is also an opportunity to sample native food and many vendors are set up as part of the experience.

The MCNAA Powwow was a wonderful day for my family. I was excited to see Mr. Barnaby dance and it was a chance for me to show my children these wonderful cultures. This powwow was an inter tribal powwow and in addition to dancers from many Northeast nations, it included performances by Aztec dancers from Mexico. They had spectacular headdresses. It is incredible how they manage to dance in them.

I did manage to find Mr. Barnaby and talk to him. He posed for a picture with me and was very kind. He took time to speak to my children and showed them his regalia which highly impressed my very shy seven year old. It was complete with turkey feathers and eagle talons. I learned that he was a native of Quebec and that he often danced in the maritime provinces, where I grew up. We knew some of the same areas. I told him about my grandmother being Mi'kmaq. He said to me as he left, "I hope your children dance!" I am working on them, but I bet their mother will dance before this journey is over.

I keep the picture that we took that day by the water on my desk at school. Partly to remind me of who I am and also because it often prompts my students to ask questions. Since I put it there, a few students have talked to me and identified themselves to me by nation.

To view a slideshow of the MCNAA Powwow go to:

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