Wednesday, July 11, 2012

First Nations Pow Wow

Last Sunday, I went to a Squamish Pow Wow. Squamish is one of the many First Nations (a.k.a. native Indians) in Canada. According to my Sociology lecturer, it is one of the better run native reservations.
Note extracted from 24H Vancouver dated Monday 09-Jul-2012: A deadly bacterial infection once linked to deadly meningitis and pneumonia has spawned a new strain, this time affecting mostly First Nations people. [...snip...] One possible explanation for the higher incidence rate is that the population might not have adequate natural immunity to the bacterial. But researchers siad it's more likely a symptom of the dire conditions in some native communities. For instance, 117 of Canada's 643 First Nations communities are currently under boil-water advisories.
This year was the 25th Annual Squamish Nation Pow Wow. It was a big gathering, not only of the Squamish but also other First Nations in B.C., from other Canadian  provinces, and even from USA. There were speeches, drumming and singing, dance competitions and vendor stalls selling food, drinks, clothing, and various craft works. What I found most interesting was a chance to observe how the First Nations handle conflict resolution between 2 parties. More on that later, but first, some photos and a short video.

Signboard indicating a self-governed Squamish area.

Beautiful "zebra crossing" across the entrance to the Squamish property.

Totem poles near the entrance inside the Squamish land.

First Nations dancing - this is the young female category.
It has lots of energetic spins.


After the initial "parade", speech, song and drums, the emcee raised the issue of a conflict that happened prior to the event. From the gist of what was explained in English, here's what I understood happened.
Side A: A relative young group (i.e. children, youths and adults, but no elderly) from Manitoba were sent by their elders in Manitoba to represent the tribe, bringing with them the colours (i.e. flag), drum and something else (I forgot what). They were playing the drum and singing one night but were stopped and chided by some elderly (from another tribe). This group voice their unhappiness to the organizers as they felt that they were being bullied. 
Side B: The elderly felt that the young group were not following customs/traditions in playing their drum. They cited the need for a feast with sacrificial offering, at least 4 elders to "bring out" [i.e. introduce/launch] the performers, and the drum must be respected [i.e. not hit too hard such that the drums drown out the singing voices].
 Photos of the conflict resolution process.

Young Manitoba group called out.
Elders from Side B aired their side of the story.

Peace offering of native medicine from Side B, 
with handshakes.

Side A representative [rightmost, holding mic] 
aired their side of the story.
Followed by another round of handshakes.
Sea gulls circled in the air above.

As you can see, the above conflict resolution is mostly talk, talk and more talk for around 1 hour. Many of the visitors left as they had expected more action. Personally, I find it a rare opportunity to witness an example of the First Nations approach to conflict resolution, and so I was glad to be there.

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