By Dave Dale
The Nugget –
Sept. 6, 2010

Strong, positive spirits overcame the dreariness of chilly, wind-driven showers as Nipissing First Nation’s 22nd annual cultural gathering celebrated Mno Bemaadziwin — A Good Life on the weekend.

I was surprised how many dancers came up even though it was freezing,” Alysha Allaire, 20, said Sunday morning before heading out to the Jocko Point traditional grounds for the second grand entry.

Everybody came out for the love of dancing … that was really cool to see,” Allaire said, adding Saturday was special because she was dancing in her jingle dress for the first time after spending more than a month making it with her mom and aunts.

It felt really good,” she said, explaining how she dances in the jingle dress to help people heal.

People will offer her tobacco, a sacred medicine among Anishinabe, to dance for them or somebody they know who is sick or troubled.

And sometimes I just dance for the people I think need a bit of help or guidance,” said Allaire, a third-year Nipissing University concurrent education student.

She has been dancing for about 15 years and said she wants to be a teacher of students in grades 4 to 10.

Elder Peter Beaucage said there were strong winds blowing off Lake Nipissing during the sunrise ceremony Saturday and the rains came hard for a while, drenching the grounds and the people preparing for the event.

But the feeling was positive about the powwow bringing healing for the community,” Beaucage said.

The sacred pipe was lit and turned, he said, as prayers were sent to the grandfathers and the creator for the gratitude for the life we have as aboriginal people today.”

Beaucage was working in the community as a native alcohol and drug awareness counsellor when the first powwow was held at Beaucage Park in 1988.

It has come a long way and it really brings pride to our community,” he said, noting many leaders of other communities show their support by participating in the opening ceremonies.

Dignitaries joining Chief Marianna Couchie included West Nipissing Mayor Joanne Savage, North Bay Mayor Vic Fedeli, Nipissing MPP Monique Smith, Nipissing-Temiskaming MP Anthony Rota and Nipissing University president Lesley Lovett-Doust.

Beaucage said the powwow gathering grew out of the Elders Day celebrations after the youth cultural group brought dancing and drumming to the event.

Bob Goulais, who was 14 at the time, remembers being involved with the youth group when the powwow started.

He now works for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Toronto as manager of policy after working for the Union of Ontario Indians and the Anishinabek Nation for more than a decade.

Goulais was master of ceremonies for the powwow and sat beside Beaucage and arena director Dan Commanda.

He said many people come to the gathering because it helps them become strong and healthy, with the event’s popularity gauged by having 10 drums come from across the province.

Local drums Lightning, White Tail Cree and Ni p i s s i n g ‘s Little Iron Youth Drum shared arbour shade with the likes of Big Train of Six Nations, Eagle Village, Red Spirit of Toronto, Northern Medicine from James Bay and Bear Nation of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan.

A lot of people come here for the healing, it’s a pretty consistent reason why people come out,” Goulais said.

Mickey George, 12, has his own agenda when it comes to dancing in the traditional regalia of his people.

Because it’s fun to do,” George said after finishing a corn dog. He needed the energy for the next two songs that were sung specifically to showcase traditional dancers like himself.

It’s a good way to get in touch with my culture and it’s a great way to stay fit,” he said, with the intense beat of the

sneak up” song testing stamina and ability.

George, who has been dancing for about five years, said he tries to attend powwows whenever it fits into a busy schedule. He’s one of the AAA Peewee Trappers this season, with the team heading to Mississauga for its first tournament next weekend.

Other events during the powwow included an open mic talent night, hand drumming and flute in the evening, a feast and giveaway for the participants as it wrapped up Sunday afternoon.