Manitoba

Manito Ahbee festival goes online with week-long virtual powwow

This year's Manito Ahbee festival was supposed to take place in May, but was cancelled due to group size restrictions during the pandemic. Many of the events were postponed until later this summer or next year.

More than 1,000 dancers and singers competing virtually in international powwow

Wamblie Littlesky danced at the Manito Ahbee festival last year. This year, the powwow is moving online in light of the pandemic. (Gary Solilak/CBC )

People wanting to celebrate Indigenous art, culture and music this week can do so from the comfort of their own couch.

This year's Manito Ahbee festival was supposed to take place in May, but was cancelled due to group size restrictions during the pandemic. Many of the events were postponed until later this summer or next year.

All this week, though, the festival is hosting a virtual powwow.

Lisa Meeches, the executive director of Manito Ahbee said organizers had to get creative in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and although it's not the same not being together in person, there's something important about the virtual gathering.

"We get to see the dancers on the land of their traditional territory. We have some dancers from California, from Florida. from the east to the west coast and everywhere in between," she told listeners on CBC Radio's Up To Speed on Monday.

Meeches said there's about 1,300 people from all over the world who are taking part in the singing and dancing competitions.

Lisa Meeches is the executive director of the Manito Ahbee festival. (Alana Cole/CBC)

She says First Nations, Metis, Inuit and other Indigenous people have come up against bigger obstacles than the pandemic in practicing their cultures.

"The powwow once upon a time was deemed illegal based on assimilation policies in this country and in the U.S. It was illegal for us to dance powwow and to sing our songs and to speak our languages," Meeches said.

"So it was natural that we would find a way to gather virtually."

She believes there's more to be gained having the powwow online than not at all.

"I think if you're a believer in powwow music and what it means to sing in the language and what we've been up against as a nation, you quickly forget about what was lost in terms of the spirit that's captured," she said.

The winners from the competitions will be announced on Sunday.

With files from Janice Grant

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