St. Andrew’s caps off Indigenous Awareness Week with pow wow

This week the advisory theme for the Upper School students was indigenous rights and the boys were given orange ribbons to wear in honour of the children who were taken from their homes to residential schools. The boys discussed the challenges that indigenous people of Canada faced when the country was settled in 1600 and beyond. Middle School students spoke about Truth and Reconciliation in their Thursday Chapel and picked up their orange ribbons on their way out.
On Thursday afternoon, the entire school gathered in Ketchum Auditorium for a pow wow put on by the Elliott family. Neebin and Neebeesh from the Class of 2020 and their father Geewadin Elliott helped lead family members on stage for the grand entry, while their uncle, Beedahsiga Elliott, was the pow wow emcee.
It began with Beedahsiga introducing the Eagleheart drummers and singers, led by Jimmy Dick, who sat in a circle surrounding a large drum at centerstage. As they prepared, Beedahsiga provided students with some history and explained the meaning behind the event. “At a pow wow, you are supposed to have fun, laugh, and dance,” he said, followed by a few knock knock jokes to keep it light.
The Eagleheart members then started to pound the drum and sing, while Neebin and Neebeesh, followed by their father and other family members, danced on stage to the beat of the drum. As they circled around the drummers, their colourful regalia, outfitted with dozens of bells, sang with each step.
“It is an honour to dance on these school grounds,” Geewadin, a member of the School’s board of governors, said to the crowd after admitting it has been around 20 years since his last dance. He emphasized that what they are wearing are not costumes, but regalia, and that these items are treated as living breathing things. Each piece has a meaning, he said as he showed off his bear claw necklace, joking that he had to wait for his brother to grow out his toenails so that he could complete it for the pow wow.
Haley Johnston then performed wearing her “jingle dress” followed by Emily, a butterfly dancer, showing off her fancy shawl as she floated across the stage to the drum beat.
Jimmy Dick explained the importance of the drum: “It is the centre of our culture and the heartbeat of our people,” he said, adding that it is made out of moose hide and pinewood.
Throughout the event, Beedahsiga made sure to teach the students a few words such as “kwey” (hello), “mijiin” (eat), and “miigwech” (thanks).
Finally, it was Emily’s turn for another dance. She carefully laid down 20 hoops in front of her and when the drummers began to sing, she wowed the audience by picking up the hoops one by one, incorporating them into the dance. This dance is meant to tell a story and is a beautiful feat that surely takes a lot of practice as Beedahsiga mentioned she had been hoop dancing since she was three years old.
David Joiner, Canadian and World Studies Department Head, joined the Elliott’s on stage to receive a gift from Geewadin for his help in facilitating the event. Dr. Joiner was given an eagle feather, the highest form of gift.
“The eagle is the bird that flies the highest, and eagle feathers carry our thoughts and prayers to the creator,” Geewadin said, adding, “This eagle feather was meant for Dr. Joiner.”
Story by Sean Maillet
St. Andrew's College
15800 Yonge Street, Aurora, ON L4G 3H7 Canada
Tel: 905-727-3178