This weekend marks the return of the Pikwakanagan traditional Pow Wow after a two-year absence and the organizers are planning a very colourful event to mark the 33rd ceremony.
It is certainly a far cry from the first few years when it began with a very small gathering on a campground located at the reserve on the shores of Golden Lake. Only a handful of dancers and performers took part then compared to the most recent one held in 2019 that had cars lined up for close to one kiloemetre (km) with visitors anxious to watch one the most anticipated and ceremonial events held in the small community of less than 500 residents.
When the Pow Wow, which in fact is a big part of their religious culture and history, begins on Saturday, Aug. 20 at noon with the grand entry on to the ceremonial Pow Wow grounds. The grand entry and the opening prayer signal the beginning of the Pow Wow. The opening prayer is always performed by an elder, and the drum takes centre stage as the most important part.
Leading the grand entry will be flag and staff carriers, the head junior and adult dancers, elders and many men’s, women’s, junior, and tiny tot dancers.
This year, the Pow Wow Committee chose Celebrating Our Resilience as the theme for this year’s pow wow. It should be a very emotional ceremony this year in light of the recent apology by Pope Francis in recognition of the role the Catholic Church played in the residential school system and its devastating effect on generation of Indigenous people, some of whom reside on the reserve.
Opening remarks will be made by current chief Wendy Jocko, who will no doubt echo the message of resilience in reference to the tragic legacy of the residential school system. In August of 2022, members of the Commanda family organized a walk from the former Mohawk Institute in Brantford to Pikwakanagan in honour of Joey Commanda.
Joey and Rocky Commanda were removed from their home in Golden Lake in the mid-1960s and placed at the Mohawk Institute, which first opened in 1828 and was the longest-operating residential school in the country when it closed in 1970.
On two occasions the brothers tried to run away in order to return home. The boys split up on their second attempt. On Sept. 13, 1968, Joey, 13, was struck and killed by a train in Oakville, while Rocky, a year older, was apprehended by police and put in a Toronto jail.
Several members of the Commanda family will be part of the ceremonies and for first-time visitors, the parade of colours and music is an introduction into the history of the community. After the opening dances take place, it is customary for visitors to be invited to get up and dance in the circle.
There are periods throughout the day that drumming and dancing in the sacred circle is reserved for residents only and visitors are asked to be respectful of the ceremonial customs. They are encouraged to ask residents about the ceremony so as not to interrupt any proceedings.
The organizing committee encourages visitors to come to the event, but remind guest there are some times during the pow wow that shouldn’t be photographed, such as ceremonies and prayers. Ask permission before snapping. A pow wow is a cultural event, not a party. Alcohol, drugs and firearms are never allowed on the premises. Drugs and alcohol are not part of the culture.
Along with the dancing and music, there is a vendors market where artisans display their original products ranging from drums to jewelry to wind-catchers and much more. There is also traditional native food items for sale.
The Pow Wow runs from noon to 7 p.m. on Saturday and begins again at noon on Sunday, Aug. 21. Admission is free but donations are gladly accepted. Pikwakanagan is located two km from Golden Lake on Highway 60.