›› Samantha Dean

The South Island Powwow is an annual celebration hosted by the Songhees Nation to honour residential and day school Survivors in recognition of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30th. Everyone is welcome to join us at Royal Athletic Park, located at 1014 Caledonia Avenue in Victoria, BC thanks to support from the City of Victoria. This vibrant event brings together people from ­varying Indigenous Nations and communities to showcase their traditions, artistry, and cultures. With a focus on promoting unity, ­understanding, and respect, the Powwow stands as a testament to the resilience and pride of the Indigenous Peoples of the South Island and all around.

Historical Significance

The Powwow has deep historical roots, tracing back centuries to the time before colonization. For Indigenous ­communities, these gatherings were essential for fostering community bonds, celebrating seasonal milestones, and passing down cultural knowledge from one generation to the next. With the arrival of European settlers, however, these traditions were suppressed, leading to the loss of cultural identity and practices.

The history of the Songhees Nation Powwow started in 1994, Songhees ­leadership which included the George family began hosting the Powwow on the arbour field located at Maplebank Road.

This Powwow was known to be a staple annual event for Vancouver Island. Years later, organization was passed on to the Joseph family, who hosted into the new century. Due to challenging times and a struggle to maintain infrastructure, the family made the difficult decision to stop hosting this event.

In recent times, there has been a public-facing revival of Indigenous cultures and a growing interest in reclaiming and preserving the customs of the past. After ­consulting with the Joseph family, the South Island Powwow emerged as a result of this resurgence, becoming a symbol of cultural revival, pride, and celebration.

Ceremonial Practices

Central to the Powwow are the ceremonial practices that honour ancestors and the natural world. Grand entries mark the beginning of each Powwow, with dancers adorned in their regalia, proudly representing their culture and heritage. The sound of drums, powerful and rhythmic, fills the air, connecting all participants to the heartbeat of Mother Earth.

Dances and ceremonies are performed by participants of all ages, each with its own unique story and purpose. The ­traditional dances, such as the Jingle Dance, Fancy Dance, and Grass Dance, are awe-inspiring spectacles that captivate both participants and spectators alike. These dances have been passed down through generations and serve as a living testament to the resilience and cultural heritage of Indigenous communities.

Another vital aspect of the South Island Powwow is to honour Survivors of residential/day schools, the 60s Scoop, ­Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2-Spirit people (MMIWG2S+), ­children who never made it home from residential schools, and military veterans. We honour these members of our communities in recognition of the loss, resiliency, sacrifices, and service of Indigenous Peoples.

Community and Unity

The South Island Powwow is more than just a cultural event; it serves as a ­meeting ground for people from diverse backgrounds to come together and learn about Indigenous cultures. Through storytelling, workshops, and interactive ­demonstrations, attendees can gain ­valuable insights into the customs, history, and daily lives of Indigenous Peoples.

This Powwow fosters an atmosphere of mutual respect, understanding, and unity, where everyone is encouraged to celebrate and appreciate the richness of Indigenous traditions. It provides an opportunity to dispel stereotypes and misconceptions, open doors for dialogue, and build bridges between Indigenous communities and the wider population.

Through such cultural events, we can strive towards a more inclusive and diverse society that cherishes and celebrates the customs and identities of all its members.

All proceeds raised through donations will go directly to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society. We look forward to inviting Nations and communities to join us this September 30th, 2023.

More info at songheesnation.ca

Photo caption: Host Drum Star Child during the first annual South Island Powwow in 2022. Photo: Christian Stewart