Nova Scotia

Eskasoni celebrates 25th powwow that 'revived who we are'

The Eskasoni First Nation will be celebrating its 25th annual powwow, the largest in Atlantic Canada. This anniversary year will honour the powwow's founding elders, like Georgina Doucette.

'I am so proud of us and proud of my community,' elder and co-founder Georgina Doucette

The Eskasoni Powwow is a highly popular event, now in its 25th year. (Eskasoni Powwow/Facebook)

This weekend is not only celebrating Canada Day but it's also an extremely important holiday in the Eskasoni First Nation.

The community will be celebrating its 25th annual powwow, the largest in Atlantic Canada. This anniversary year will honour the powwow's founding elders, like Georgina Doucette.

She says she and most of those she worked with 25 years ago are all residential school survivors.

"I went in when I was eight and out when I was 16," Doucette said. "I couldn't speak my own language until I was 25-years-old."

'Take back your life'

But that's changed.

"I am no longer ashamed of who I am."

Doucette says organizing the first powwow served to connect the group to their culture.

"We had to do something to recapture a bit of our culture, and our song, and our stories, and take back your life, you know, that you were deprived of all those years," Doucette said. 

Susan Aglukark is an award-winning Inuk artist and activist performing at the powwow. (Submitted by Nadya Kwandibens)

'Native pride is back'

She said she struggled with alcohol abuse over the years, but the powwow helped.

"This powwow gave me the strength to keep going, and picked up our community," Doucette said. "Now it's like Native pride is back."

The elder said that first powwow wasn't an easy task with little to no funding. The group extensively cleaned the grounds, which were donated by the family of Noel Denny for the first powwow.

"They took out about three tandem loads of junk: stove, fridges, everything that got dumped over the years," Doucette said. 

City Natives won Aboriginal artist of the year at the 2016 ECMAs. The band is performing at the powwow. (Bob Mersereau/CBC)

Powwow 'revived' community

That work is more than appreciated today, as it created a forum for Aboriginal growth and healing.

Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny said the powwow achieved the elders' goal, transforming the community. 

"It revived who we are, our language, our song, our dances, and to express who we are," he said. "That's what made a huge difference."

Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny. (Submitted by Leroy Denny)

Big names performing

The three-day gathering is open to everyone, beginning Friday with celebrations and grading day events for children. Saturday, a grand parade will lead into a huge feast. 

Juno award-winning Inuk folk and pop musician Susan Aglukark will be the key-note speaker at Saturday night's event, which will include performances by local award-winning bands City Natives, and Black and Grey. 

Sunday will feature more drumming and dancing, and a special tribute will be paid to Doucette and the other founding members, who are all elders now. 

Doucette said 25 years ago she couldn't have predicted its success. 

"Right now, my head is swelled up," Doucette said with a laugh. "I am so proud of us, and proud of my community."

About the Author

From people around the corner to those around the world, Norma Jean MacPhee has more than a decade of experience telling their stories on the radio, TV and online. Reach Norma Jean at norma.jean.macphee@cbc.ca