Nfld. & Labrador

Meet the designer who has helped establish fancy regalia in N.L.

Robin Benoit is responsible for a lot of the fancy regalia seen at powwows across the province. She not only specializes in making it, she also played a part in popularizing fancy regalia locally.  

Regalia on the island was pretty plain before Robin Benoit got involved

Meet this Miawpukek regalia maker

5 months ago
Duration 3:51
Robin Benoit spends about three weeks on each fancy regalia she makes. The pieces are customized and deeply personal to the dancer wearing them.

Robin Benoit is responsible for a lot of the fancy regalia seen at powwows across Newfoundland and Labrador.

She not only specializes in making it, she also played a part in popularizing fancy regalia locally. 

When powwows first started in Newfoundland, Miawpukek dancers wore plain and straightforward designs, she said. 

She wanted that to change.

What is regalia? 

Regalia is worn during powwows. There are different kinds for different purposes. 

"Your fancy dancers are a little more elaborate than your traditional dancers," Benoit said. 

Benoit designed this regalia in honour of missing and murdered Indigenous women. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Fancy regalia usually involves multiple pieces including a shawl with lots of ribbon.

"A lot of times when people come in and they want to dance or they're going to do a ceremony with it, they want to implement their family history or maybe a loved one that's passed on."

Each set of fancy regalia takes Benoit about three weeks to make.

'Their vision … on fabric'

She consults with the dancer to find out what they'd like to incorporate. It's nerve-racking work, she said.

"At the end I'm just trying to take their vision and put it on fabric and sometimes it's really hard because they don't have the words to say or express what they want on it, so it's up to you to really pick that apart and try and come up with this piece of artwork that represents who they are," she said.

"So every single one is so difficult to do. I don't want to mess up on it, you know?"

Benoit stands next to the last fancy regalia she made for the 2022 powwow season. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Benoit always checks in with the person she's designing regalia for to make sure she's on the right track while she works, but she's still nervous every time she shows someone their finished shawl. 

"So far, for the last 17 years, I've managed to do OK," she said with a laugh. "Every time so far they've said, 'That's exactly what I want.'"

The regalia risk

Miawpukek held its first powwow 27 years ago. Benoit remembers the experience being new to the community at the time. 

"We had a lot of dancers come from different parts of the province to come down and dance and I just noticed that there was hardly anyone there dancing from our own community," she said. 

She was working at the local craft shop at the time making dolls. 

"So I ended up asking my boss, I was like, 'Can we do something about this? Like, we need to get these fancy regalias and get our dancers out there.' And she was so encouraging she was like, 'sure, let's do it,'" Benoit said.

Powwow attendees display their regalia in 2018 in Conne River. (CBC)

Benoit is reluctant to take all of the credit. Buying all the material and ribbon was a risk for the craft shop to take, she said. Business didn't pick up right away. 

She only had a single order her first year and two or three orders the year after but by the third year, things had taken off. Benoit and her custom regalia were booked a year in advance.

"By the third year, when we went down [to the powwow], our dancers were just lining and it just went on forever."

"And It was a moment, I'm not going to lie. It was like a 'oh my god,'" she said clutching her chest. "I think I had a little cry there, yeah, it was a beautiful sight to see."

They say when you have the powwow you dance and you pray so it's a part of our culture, part of our tradition.​​​​​- Robin Benoit

Now, Benoit said, she sees generations of families wearing her work. The little ones dancing, having a great time, and their parents looking on.

Her work has also made it to other parts of Canada. She saw some of her pieces when she went on the powwow trail and attended different powwows one summer. 

"They say when you have the powwow you dance and you pray so it's a part of our culture, part of our tradition," she said.

Benoit plans to continue making fancy regalia until she's able to pass the tradition on to someone else who she hopes will come from her community.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Katie Breen, Carolyn Stokes and Garrett Barry

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