Manito Ahbee festival a chance to celebrate kinship, hospitality and Indigenous culture: executive director

A sacred fire, traditional songs and a little rain helped kick off this year's Manito Ahbee Festival Wednesday at The Forks in Winnipeg.

14th annual festival began in Winnipeg Wednesday

Wamblie Littlesky, who is Miss Manito Ahbee, helped kick off the 14th annual Manito Ahbee Festival Wednesday afternoon. (Gary Solilak/CBC )

A sacred fire, traditional songs and a little rain helped kick off this year's Manito Ahbee Festival in Winnipeg Wednesday at the Oodena Celebration Circle at The Forks.  

The annual festival, now in its 14th year, celebrates Indigenous culture, music and art. 

The festival is unique in the way it brings communities together, says executive director Lisa Meeches.

"There's so many looming questions about the Indigenous community — we've been researched to death," she said.

"Why not just come and participate with us in our songs and dances and be reminded of how friendly we need to be with one another? This festival allows for that energy and that hospitality and that kinship that needs to happen." 

Lisa Meeches. executive director of the Manito Ahbee Festival, helped launch this year's festival on Wednesday at the Oodena Celebration Circle. (Alana Cole/CBC)

The festival, which runs from May 15-19, includes a youth education day, an Indigenous marketplace and trade show, a music conference, and a powwow expected to draw roughly 1,000 dancers. 

The Indigenous Music Awards ceremony, which runs as part of Manito Ahbee, is scheduled for Friday night at the Club Regent Event Centre. 

Award winners will be presented with handmade drums. 

The Manito Ahbee Festival launched Wednesday afternoon at The Forks and runs until May 19. (Alana Cole/CBC)

In all, Meeches said more than 17,000 people are expected to take part in Manito Ahbee this year. 

That will include gospel singer Donna Pratt, who was honoured and performed at the Oodena Circle Wednesday as part of Manito Ahbee's opening ceremony.

She said she participates in the festival every year. 

"It's a circle of life," said Pratt. "It brings our people together from all the nations."