Powwow education week started Monday and will culminate in a live stream on Friday
The Indigenous student-led Ryerson powwow is going all-online this week to work around the limitations COVID-19 has placed on social gatherings. The annual tradition kicked off Monday with virtual resources and education. It will finish up with Friday’s live-streamed event featuring masters of ceremonies, a live chat and the streaming of a pre-recorded powwow including head dancers, drummers and video submissions.
Not all events will go online, however. The day of the powwow will see a live sunrise ceremony take place along the Humber River. There will be a lighting of the sacred fire by Johnny Moore, the powwow’s firekeeper.
Fourth-year media production student Karly Cywink is the lead designer for this year’s event. Cywink, an Ojibwe from Whitefish River First Nation, said the education week and powwow took inspiration from Cyber PowWow, a project started in 1996 where visitors could connect via chat rooms and share the work of Indigenous artists and writers, and other powwows organized on social media like the Social Distance Powwow on Facebook.
“Online interaction is extremely important with this powwow, but it’s difficult to curate,” Cywink said.
Organizers are encouraging people on social media to use the hashtag #RUPowWow and talk to one another on their live chat during the event.
Jessica Sherk, an Anishinaabe master of social work candidate at Ryerson, is the chair of the Ryerson powwow organizing committee. One of the focuses from the all-online initiative was to preserve the sense of togetherness from other years, Sherk said.
“One of our main goals is to recreate that sense of community. At the end of the day, it’s a community-driven event for Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks to come together.”
Organizers have also included a virtual marketplace where people can support Indigenous vendors and entrepreneurs, an essential part of the powwow.
“We wanted to make sure that we’re expanding economic opportunities and cultivating long-term relationships,” Sherk said. “That was really important to us because we want to give opportunities to Indigenous folks, not just during powwow, but year-round.”
A powwow is a traditional gathering where Indigenous community members meet and celebrate their culture through music and dance. Ryerson’s annual powwow was hosted for the first time in 1998. The university continued the tradition ever since, and became the first Toronto university to hold a traditional powwow.
“The Ryerson powwow is a beautiful way of celebrating Indigenous presence and culture on campus and in urban centres like Toronto,” said Lila Pine, director of Saagajiwe at FCAD’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Indigenous Research and Creation, during their 2018 event. “We hope this becomes a recurring event on the Ryerson calendar that all community members participate in and look forward to each year.”
With files from Matthew Best