Pow-wow continues traditions, resurges others

Chicken dancer Wayne Burnstick is helping to revive a form of First Nation dance that has been absent from the Plains Cree area for more than six decades. - Stephen Dafoe Photo

By Stephen Dafoe

Alexander – Warm weather and a positive spirit made for a successful opening day to this year’s Kipohtakaw Annual Traditional Pow-Wow. The Grand Entry took nearly 10 minutes, as all styles of dancer in their multi-coloured regalia made their way into the arena to the beat of the host drum and the patter of MC Douglas Bonaise.

Tribal Councillor Bernard Paul said that approximately 170 dancers and nine drum groups had registered prior to Saturday’s grand entry, with more dancers anticipated to sign up prior to the Sunday event.

“That is good for our little traditional Pow-wow,” Paul said, adding that three of the drum groups had come from south of Calgary, a couple from the High Prairie area and the rest equally split between Edmonton and Alexander. “It’s good, the atmosphere. The elders are right behind us this year. Elder support is number one and the community is coming together, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Paul said that the annual Alexander Pow-wow is all about dancing, having fun and sharing First Nation cultural ways and traditional values.

One Alexander resident who came out to support his community and to participate in the day’s events was Lyle Lafleche, whose two sons are drummers.

“This is one of the longest-running traditional Pow-wow,” Lafleche said, noting that the community pays the drummers a fixed amount to come and drum for the dancers. “It’s not a competition. A lot of the other aboriginal communities run the competition Pow-wow where you dance and get paid the big dollars. This is a friendly atmosphere here, where everybody comes, everybody knows each other.”

Lafleche said it is that friendly atmosphere that keeps him coming back year after year.

“We meet friends that we know,” he said. “A lot of my family members come from the Buck Lake area, Rocky Mountain House. It’s just to see the people come and listen to the songs.”

But while attending Pow-wow has become a tradition for Lafleche and his family, other residents of the community are looking to return some traditions that had been forgotten for many years.

Wayne Burnstick said he became a chicken dancer about four years ago, taking up a dance that although a couple centuries old, had been absent from the Plains Cree area for about 60 years.

“When this chicken dance came to me, it began in a dream for me,” Burnstick said. “I was chosen, I guess, to provide this sacred dance for healing of people, healing of our first Nation people.”

Burnstick said that it is not always necessary to travel to another community to pray and dance for someone who is ill, that it is possible to dance in Alexander to assist someone in a neighbouring province.

The chicken dancer said he has had a lot of support from the elders in his community, help that has guided him through his journey of learning about chicken dancing and its meaning.

Burnstick said he is grateful to be able to bring the dance back to Alexander, but also to be able to pay homage to the dancers who came before him as well as the dance’s namesake.

“We honour the birds of this land because the birds bring us messages,” Burnstick said. “That’s why I’m a chicken dancer because I was given a message to pray for the people and dance for them.”

Alexander’s next big event this summer is Treaty Day to be held Aug. 21.

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