Lake Manitoba First Nation postpones powwow over public health concerns

Lake Manitoba First Nation has postponed its powwow that was supposed to start on June 19 as a precaution to public health in the community.

Concerns from elders and community members, crowd sizes factored into decision, says band chief

Lake Manitoba First Nation Chief Cornell McLean said he and the band council voted to tentatively push the powwow to the weekend of July 24. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Lake Manitoba First Nation has postponed a powwow that was supposed to start on June 19 as a public health precaution.

Chief Cornell McLean and band council announced last week that the annual event would run on the First Nation, about 160 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, from June 19-21.

But on Monday, they voted to wait for at least another month.

"We didn't want to cause any division in the community," McLean told CBC News.

More people wanted the powwow to go ahead than not, he said, "but in the interest of the community we [decided to] just postpone it."

Under public health orders intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, public gatherings in Manitoba are currently limited to 50 people outdoors, or 25 inside.

McLean had told CBC News last week that there could be at least 100 dancers alone at the Lake Manitoba powwow.

Elders and other community members voiced concerns after the June date was announced, McLean said, and organizers started hearing from large numbers of people who wanted to attend the powwow, including some from out of province.

Despite having a plan developed to maintain social distancing at the powwow, community concerns and the anticipated attendance swayed the decision to postpone, McLean said.

The new date for the powwow is now July 24-26, but "that's not written in stone," McLean said, especially if a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hits the province.

It will be an event for local band members only, to ensure crowd sizes stay under control.

Manitoba had 12 active cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday. To date, there have been 297 cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus in the province, but none on any First Nation in Manitoba.

'Not an appropriate time': Pallister

Public health orders in provinces across the country say public gatherings must be capped, but members of the federal government have said Indigenous gatherings — like powwows — can continue as normal.

"Canada must not and will not prohibit these important practices," Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said last month after RCMP were sent to a sun dance ceremony in Saskatchewan.

On Tuesday, Premier Brian Pallister reiterated that Manitobans must continue following physical distancing and proper hand hygiene, and avoid large public gatherings.

"Don't put on big social gatherings like powwows and cultural events right now. This is not an appropriate time to do that," Pallister said at a news conference.

He said he intended to follow up with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about what appears to be conflicting advice from the federal government on gatherings and the importance of following public health orders.

"We've had a federal minister telling First Nations that it's their right to go ahead with powwows if they want. This is not on. This is not acceptable," Pallister said.

"It's not because it's First Nation. It's because [the] Public Health Act applies to everybody in our province — Indigenous, not Indigenous. Race, creed, or colour has nothing to do with this."

Although the First Nation voted to postpone its powwow, "Premier Pallister has no business" interfering in Lake Manitoba's decisions, McLean said.

"He's a provincial leader," he said. "When we flooded in 2011 and 2014, we were told that we're federal responsibility. So he can't be saying one thing and then doing another."


Nicholas Frew is a CBC Saskatchewan reporter based in Regina, who specializes in producing data-driven stories. Hailing from Newfoundland and Labrador, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school. He has previously worked for CBC newsrooms in Manitoba and Alberta. Before joining CBC, he interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. You can reach him at

With files from Lenard Monkman