Children honoured at Vancouver's 5th annual Downtown Eastside powwow

Culture saves lives and creates a strong sense of identity, says the group behind Vancouver’s 5th Annual Downtown Eastside powwow.

Culture saves lives and creates a strong sense of identity, say organizers

Downtown Eastside children and youth are honoured with drums and other gifts at Vancouver's fifth Downtown Eastside powwow. (Trevor Jang)

Culture saves lives and creates a strong sense of identity, says the group behind Vancouver's fifth Annual Downtown Eastside powwow.

On Sunday, hundreds witnessed stunning regalia, powerful dance performances and ceremony at Oppenheimer Park as children from the city's most troubled neighbourhoods were honoured with gifts .

"We're hoping to encourage families to really work on respecting their children and teaching children their culture," said Kat Norris, a community activist and one of the organizers of the event.

Norris says hand drums were distributed to 24 lucky youth in the hope they will be inspired to continue exploring and practicing their culture. She's also hoping the daylong cultural performances might encourage parents and adults in the community to become healthier role models.

"Culture saves lives. It identifies us as a people. The powwow culture identifies me as a Native woman, as a dancer and someone who walks with pride and knows my medicine," she said.

Culture saves lives

The group behind the powwow is Culture Saves Lives — a grassroots community initiative aimed at reconnecting marginalized people in the Downtown Eastside to culture as a means of harm reduction and health intervention. 

Hundreds witnessed stunning regalia, powerful dance performances and ceremony at Vancouver's fifth annual Downtown Eastside powwow. (Trevor Jang)

"A lot of the people down here are survivors of residential schools or intergenerational survivors ... so it gives them a taste of home or culture. It gives them an opportunity to feel that again, that good medicine," said Norris.

"It helps with community pride," said Patrick Smith, founder of the group. "They get to showcase who they are to the rest of the community who may not know that part of them."

Smith says the group has spent a lot of time focusing on adults and elders looking to reconnect to culture to overcome addiction problems but wanted to shift the focus of this powwow to the youth.

"A lot of the kids around here are pretty far removed from culture, so it's something to reconnect them with who they are as a First Nations child," he said.

Smith says the event cost $12,000 and required months of planning. He says a number of sponsors and community groups have rallied together to grow the event year after year.

"For weeks after, I see a lot of people are quite happy and proud of who they are. It reinvigorates people," he said.

'I like that it's a part of our culture and history'

Vanaya Jobin, 11, from Strathcona Elementary was one of the youth participating in the powwow. "I like that it's a part of our culture and history. That's what encourages me to dance," she said.
Kat Norri (right), was one of the organizers of the powwow and Vanaya Jobin (left), 11, from Strathcona Elementary, particpated in the event. (Trevor Jang)

Adorned in her regalia, Jobin's face was painted in the four colors of the medicine wheel representing health, well-being and balance. She says she's been powwow dancing since she was six years old and is grateful to community organizers for making the powwow possible.

"Thank you for the beautiful opportunity and for honouring the children who were scared to dance. Having the audience cheering for us felt good," said Jobin.


Trevor Jang is a recipient of the 2016 CJF Aboriginal Journalism Fellowship. He is an award-winning writer and broadcast journalist based in Vancouver, BC. Trevor is from northwestern British Columbia and is a mix of Wet'suwet'en Nation and Chinese descent.