Thunder Bay

'Wiikondim! Feasting and Pow Wow' explained for everyone in new book by Ontario Catholic school board

The importance of the eagle feather, the positive energy of cedar and the heartbeat of the drum are all explained in 'Wiikondim! Feasting and Pow Wow', a new book written and published by the Kenora Catholic District School Board (KCDSB)  in northwestern Ontario.

'Students need to understand our sacred items' says elder-in-residence for Kenora Catholic district board

Members of the Kenora Catholic District School Board including Mariette Martineau (second from right), the board's religious education coordinator and Isobel White (far right), the board's elder-in-residence, celebrate the launch of 'Wiikondim! Feasting and Pow Wow'. Board officials hope the book will help everyone learn more about Anishnawbe culture and traditions. (Kenora Catholic District School Board)

The importance of the eagle feather, the positive energy of cedar and the heartbeat of the drum are all explained in Wiikondim! Feasting and Pow Wow, a new book written and published by the Kenora Catholic District School Board (KCDSB)  in northwestern Ontario.

The colourful picture book, which is written mainly in English but includes some Anishnawbemowin words and explanations, was initiated several years ago when educators realized many staff and students, including those who are Indigenous,  had little understanding of the sacred traditions or medicines they were seeing at these cultural events.

"We realized that if we could find a simple way to help them to align what they were seeing at the feasts to the meaning of what they were seeing, then that would deepen their experience," said Mariette Martineau, the religious education coordinator for the KCDSB.

'The drum gives us life by all the songs '

An excerpt from the new book 'Wiikondim! Feasting and Pow Wow', written and published by the Kenora Catholic District School Board, illustrates the significance of the eagle feather. (Kenora Catholic District School Board)

The project really took off when Isobel White, the board's elder-in-residence, arrived two years and began to share her expertise.

"I felt the students need to understand our ways, our culture, our teaching, our sacred items," said White. "I wanted them to understand where our powwow is coming from, where our traditional drum is coming from."

For instance, "the drum gives us life by all the songs that come with it. And our belief is that there is a spirit in that drum that wants us to be very healthy and loving with one another," she said.

Another example White felt should be included in the book was the sacred value of eagle feathers. "If we see an eagle flying above us, right away it means [something] very positive in our lives."

Respecting 'haatsookanag' or the spirit

It is this element of "haatsookanag" or "the spirits that are present within the drum, within the eagle feather, within the blanket, within the community," which moved Martineau most deeply.

"It's really powerful to think it's not an inanimate object.  It's not a thing. It's an energy with the power to change, and we need everything we can get to help people be the best they can be."

For White, she believes the book can bring people together by helping everyone, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, understand each other's belief system, which in turn would lead to more respect for each other as individuals and groups.

'Truth and reconciliation' comes from understanding 

Finding the spirit in the drum... The Elder-in-Residence and the Religious Education Coordinator at the Kenora Catholic District School Board worked together to produce a new book explaining the sacred elements of feasts and powwows. We'll hear why they felt it was so important for all kids to have the opportunity to learn more about these cultural events. 7:24

"We talk about truth and reconciliation," said White. "We are all one so we have to understand where each of us comes, from like our religion."

Every school in the KCDSB has received several copies of the book, which are being used regularly in advance of a powwow scheduled for October 10.