Royal Canadian Mint celebrates fancy dancers with new coin

The 2 oz. pure silver coin was unveiled at McGill University’s First Peoples’ House annual powwow Friday in Montreal.

Design created by Kanien'kehá:ka artist Garrison Garrow

The 2 oz. pure silver coin will have a mintage limited to 3,500. (Submitted by the Royal Canadian Mint)

The colourful fringe and flashy feather bustles of fancy dance regalia is front and centre of a new coin by the Royal Canadian Mint.

The 2 oz. pure silver coin was unveiled Friday at McGill University's First Peoples' House annual powwow in Montreal.

"What better place to honour and unveil a coin celebrating this powerful and captivating expression of dance than an actual powwow where some of the people who come to the coin unveiling can see these dances live?" said Alison Crawford, senior manager of public affairs at the Royal Canadian Mint.

The coin with a face value of $30 is 50 millimetres across and is a collectors edition, with a mintage limited to 3,500. ​It's one of several coins released by the Mint over the years to honour First Nations, Mé​tis and Inuit. 

The artwork on the new coin was designed by Kanien’kehá:ka artist Garrison Garrow. (Submitted by Royal Canadian Mint)

"We pride ourselves on telling the fascinating stories of Canada through coins, and a lot of that involves celebrating First Nations, Inuit and Mé​tis cultures. That's fundamental to achieving that goal to the overall story of Canada," said Crawford.

Movement and energy

The artwork was designed by Kanien'kehá:ka artist Garrison Garrow.

"To have the opportunity to have [my work] on such a large scale, it was a great honour," said Garrow, who is originally from Akwesasne and now lives in Ottawa.

Fancy is a competitive powwow dance known for its fast and furious pace.The motion and energy of the dance is something Garrison wanted to ensure was captured in the static image.

"I used a lot of colours in this design as well, as a way to show how much energy that can come off of that dance," he said.

The style is said to originate from the Ponca nation in the midwestern United States, and was popularized at wild west shows. Male fancy dancers are known to do cartwheels and backflips to impress the crowds and judges.

Paskwawmostosis Lightning, 24, has been fancy dancing since he could walk. (Submitted by Paskwawmostosis Lightning)

'It is a relatively new style of dance, but I believe it's a culmination of different types of war dances that used to exist before," said Paskwawmostosis Lightning, an Indigenous Studies student at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont.

"The two bustles is something that was created in those wild west shows to create a little bit more of a lively dance."

Educational value of coin

Lightning, 24, has been dancing the style since he could walk. He said the most important part of the style is the creative freedom.

"In the style, you can almost do anything," he said. 

"I like that there's a competitiveness in it to make the most fancy move, and sometimes it's not the most creative but it's the most perfected move so there's a lot of practice that goes into it."

For Lightning, he hopes the commemoration on the coin will bring more awareness to the dance style.

"A lot of non-Indigenous people don't go to powwows or they've heard about them, but they think that they're exclusive to Indigenous people," he said.

"In the east, fancy dancers are somewhat rare, but the farther west you go, there's tons and tons of fancy dancers and it's usually the crowd-pleasing dance. So, for non-Indigenous people to see that on currency is pretty amazing."

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About the Author

Jessica Deer

Journalist

Jessica Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. A former staff reporter for the Eastern Door, she works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at jessica.deer@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.