Families at Mi’kmaw Child Development Centre head to Maine powwow

For the past 26 years, the Mi’kmaw Child Development Centre in Halifax has been organizing trips to powwows in the Maritimes and beyond. This year, for the first time, they’re crossing the border and heading to Maine.

For Lee Merrigan Thomas, the co-ordinator of centre, the cross-generational participation is what makes these gatherings worthwhile.

“When we set up camp and we see 25 or 30 tents in a circle, and all the little ones are playing in the middle and the parents are bustling around — they’re making a kitchen. It’s really heartwarming to be a part of it. And seeing parents who came here as children and who are now here with their children,” said Thomas.

“There’s been so many negative generational events happening in the community that to have such a positive event going on, it’s empowering. I think for a lot of people who are still learning about their culture, it gives them a chance to feel fully invested and involved.”

Jurni Robinson, left, and Katrice Lee Deer in regalia, preparing for the powwow in Maine. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

For Maina Deer, whose mother was in a residential school and unable to teach her certain aspects of her culture, it’s a chance for kids to learn about their culture.

“We travel as a group and we camp as a group, we’re a travelling community,” she said. “At the powwow, some of the kids get to do the powwow dancing, wearing their regalia, and a lot of the parents learn to make the regalia for the kids.”

Lisa Robinson has been a participant at the Mi’kmaw Child Development Centre since it opened in 1994, and has put her four kids through the programs available there. For her, the powwows are an essential trip to help connect her community with its cultural roots.

Jurni Robinson’s regalia is red as a tribute to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

“I find because we live in a city, and I guess we might be out a little bit of a disadvantage when it comes to being as involved in our culture as maybe some that might be on reserve,” she said.

“When we do gather at our centre and then especially go on our powwow trip, to see all of our children get together in their regalia, whether they’re drumming or dancing or singing, you see the pride on them. It’s something really special to see.

“It’s just like a feeling you can’t really describe when you see that pride, especially in our generation. There is still a lot of shame put on us and at times it was almost better not to be who you are. Just to see the pride in them, it’s amazing.”

Robinson’s youngest child, eight-year-old Jurni, is a jingle dress dancer. Her dress is red for an important reason.

“It’s for all the indigneous women who’ve been killed,” she said. “We all dance together and we have fun.”

Jurni Robinson shows her regalia footwear. (CBC/Phlis McGregor)

An auction to help fund this year’s powwow trip to Maine runs Tuesday from noon to 5 p.m. and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 2161 Gottingen St., across from the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre. The centre is still accepting items for the auction.

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