'A new life, a new way': Manitoba First Nation holds 1st powwow in 150 years
Community evacuated in 2011 due to flooding rebuilding cultural roots
A Manitoba First Nation devastated after its members were displaced by flooding hosted a powwow this weekend for the first time in 150 years — an event many in the community hope brings healing and reconnection to traditional ways.
"This is a way of moving forward," newly minted Lake St. Martin First Nation Chief Christopher Traverse said. "It's bringing awareness to our culture; it's bringing awareness to our next generation youngsters."
The province's decision to flood Lake Manitoba during a 2011 historic flood resulted in hundreds of homes and cottages around the lake being damaged or destroyed completely.
The Lake St. Martin community was ordered evacuated and its members displaced, a situation that took a toll on them and that a provincial court has described as "palpable and tragic." A number of them died.
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Now, as the community continues to rebuild and its people return, Traverse is hopeful restarting an annual powwow ceremony marks a new beginning.
The tradition ended on the First Nation a century and a half ago due to the impact of colonization on its people, who were forbidden to practice their cultural ways, Traverse said.
There was an attempt to host a powwow in the 1960s, but church influence "shut [it] down as quick as it was set up," he said.
Traverse faced hesitance from the First Nation council until he spoke to church leaders and they gave their blessing to host the powwow, he said.
For community grandmother and elder Florence Wood, the powwow brings people together and opens a door for them to start reclaiming a connection to their roots.
"We have lost everything. We lost our culture, we lost our language … our way of life from before," she said. "It's up to us to go back … find out what we lost."
Organizer Merv Sinclair told CBC he felt blessed to see youth taking part and dancing.
"What is happening today here is the beginning of a new life, a new way," Sinclair said.
For Pippy Pruden and Alainna Audy, girls from nearby Little Saskatchewan First Nation, the powwow was a sign of hope to other youth like them.
"It truly is an honour to be here," Audy said. "It's important for everyone to see that we are still here."
"I want the younger generations to see that we're dancing again, because a lot of us have lost our way of life. It's nice for them to see and reconnect," Pruden said.
With files from the CBC's Joanne Roberts