Alberta girl soars in winning performance at one of world's biggest powwows

Demi Potts, a 12-year-old member of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, placed first in the junior girls fancy shawl dance at the Gathering of Nations held in Albuquerque, N.M.

Demi Potts, 12, won the junior girls fancy shawl dance at the Gathering of Nations

Demi Potts, of Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, following her winning dance at the Gathering of Nations, a powwow in Albuquerque, N.M. (Submitted by Claudette Pastion)

Demi Potts swings her arms, pink shawl sweeping the air and feet flying in time with the fast-paced beat of the drum during her performance of the fancy shawl dance at one of the largest powwows in the world. 

"Like my mom always said, just fly around like you're a butterfly," said the 12-year-old Potts, a member of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation from Whitecourt, Alta., about 180 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

The advice is particularly well-suited to a dance that represents the opening of a cocoon when a butterfly emerges.

At the Gathering of Nations powwow, held from April 28 to 30 in Albuquerque, N.M., Potts emerged, too — as the winner of the Junior Girls Fancy Shawl competition against about 30 other girls ranging in age from seven to 12.

 "I am very happy and proud of myself," Potts told CBC's Edmonton AM on Wednesday.

Around 3,000 participants, representing more than 750 nations from the United States and Canada, competed while tens of thousands of spectators took in the performances, competitions, arts and craft vendors, food, and regalia parades. 

It was the first in-person event since 2019. Because of the pandemic, the Gathering of Nations was held online for 2020 and 2021.

Potts said she was nervous at first about performing in front of such big crowds.

"But I got pretty used to it," said Potts, who has been dancing since she was three. "Like I was really excited to be there." 

Potts' mother, Claudette Pastion, said it was a proud moment seeing her daughter dance before thousands of spectators. 

"It's very overwhelming to watch her and it's uplifting," she said.

About 3,000 singers and dancers of all ages competed at the Gathering of Nations powwow, a three-day event held at the end of April in Albuquerque, N.M. (Mark Holm/The Associated Press)

Pastion knew early on that her daughter had a dancer's spirit. Potts had tried different styles before settling on a fancy shawl, a fast-paced dance that requires more athleticism, Pastion said. 

"That's her gift." 

The Gathering of Nations is one of the biggest powwow events in North America. Demi Potts, from the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, came first in her event in New Mexico. Demi and her mom Claudette Pastion join us to talk about the competition.

Pastion does everything she can to support her daughter, including spending hours creating the regalia.

"Waiting for the right colours, the right design just doesn't come to you," she said. "It takes time, patience and prayer and eventually, it takes vision."

Pastion said being at the powwow, surrounded by friends and seeing the energy of the nations gathered together, was "an uplifting, beautiful feeling."