Indigenous·Video

Mini powwow aims to lift spirits of Kahnawake hospital residents

On Sunday, the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre organized a mini powwow outside its building for the elders and residents in long-term care to watch from their rooms, as well as from an enclosed balcony.

With restrictions on hospital visits, powwow a way for families to stay connected

Ie'nahkwenhá:wi Rice and Kaié:wate Jacobs wave to their great-grandmother from outside of the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre. (Submitted by Tina Stacey)

Kahnawake's Echoes of a Proud Nation Powwow was cancelled this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but a small group of dancers from the Mohawk community had the opportunity to put on their moccasins and dance over the weekend.

On Sunday, the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre organized a mini powwow outside its building for the elders and residents in long-term care. Patients inside were able to see the powwow from their rooms, as well as from an enclosed balcony that overlooks the street.

The afternoon included a grand entry, traditional Haudenosaunee songs and dances, as well as an honour song for frontline workers.

"It really meant a lot to me because I love making people happy and saw the smile on my Grandma's face," said 10-year-old dancer Ie'nahkwenhá:wi Rice.

"I got super happy myself; it was just an amazing time there."

Rice and her older sister Kaié:wate Jacobs, 15, have been dancing since they were in diapers. Their great-grandmother Gertie is one of the residents at the hospital.

The drum group and dancers who performed outside of the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre on June 14. (Submitted by Tina Stacey)

"I was crying. It was amazing. They were proud to be there and dance for her," said their mom Tina Stacey. 

"We call her on the phone but it's only if somebody is in her room that she'll pick up because she's not always out of bed anymore. This was the best medicine for them, and for families that danced."

Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre organized a mini powwow outside its building for the elders and residents in long-term care to watch from their rooms. 0:52

Long-term care facilities across Quebec have been hit hard by the pandemic. Since mid-March, the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre has been closed to visitors.

"It was really the perfect event. It's a demonstration that we're able to do something like this in a way that's safe while being able to honour our elders," said Lisa Westaway, the hospital's executive director, during a Facebook Live to the community on Sunday evening.

"I spoke to a few families and it was a connection for them, a connection that they haven't been able to have."

Don Barnaby was MC for Sunday's powwow for elders. (Submitted by Tina Stacey)

In order to maintain physical distancing, the local drum group, Red Tail Spirit Singers, brought four separate drums to the event and dancers were spread out across the street. An honour song was sung for frontline workers.

"The dancers were acknowledging the elders up on the balcony, and waving. You could see their eyes and joy it brought to them," said Stacey.

"It was really something special."

The sound system was piped into the hospital's intercom system so that residents and staff inside could hear the drum group and MC Don Barnaby.

"They needed some medicine to lift their spirits up. For us to be able to do that, to be able to dance for them, was the greatest gift I could give them," said Barnaby. 

"It's not a medicine you can find in a pill or in a shot, but we were trying to help heal their spirit."

Barnaby is a Mi'kmaw dancer for the last 20 years and MC from Listuguj, Que., who lives in Kahnawake. He said, even though it's not his community, he feels it's important to dance for elders wherever he goes.

With powwows cancelled across the country, seasoned dancers like Barnaby are feeling the impact on their own spirits.

"For me, it's been devastating to not be able to powwow," he said.

"That's my medicine, and when I don't do that, my wife can tell that my spirit is hungry and sad because it's not being fed the way it's used to being fed."

About the Author

Jessica Deer

Journalist

Jessica Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. She works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at jessica.deer@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.

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