Young dancer initiated
On Sunday, 13-year old Trevor Penner, stood at the edge of the Taylor arena waiting. As a circle of drummers beat on one large drum, singing together, Josh Matwiy stood with him, ready to accompany Penner through his initiation into pow wow.
“It means a lot to me because I’ll be recognized at pow wow as a dancer,” Penner said before the ceremony.
Being initiated means Penner will be welcome to attend other pow wows as a dancer. He’s been working towards this for two years, since his mom made him his own regalia.
The process of becoming a pow wow dancer is more than just dancing. Penner recently brought his regalia to an elder, and presented them with a pouch of tobacco, a symbol of thanks and honour. Penner was given his spirit name, Bear Spirit, and blessed to become a dancer.
“He wasn’t interested in dancing before, but when he put on his regalia, it was like his spirit soared,” said Helen, Penner’s mom.
Their family, from Fort St. John, started dancing five years ago, when Penner’s sisters wanted to become more involved with their Indigenous heritage.
A long line of family and friends followed Penner and Matwiy as they walked around the dance circle, stopping when they reached two elders seated at the front. The elders prayed for Penner and blessed him, exhorting him to take on the spirit of pow wow dancing and to carry it well. Penner’s family handed out gifts to guests, thanking them for coming.
A new song began and Penner and Matwiy danced around the circle again. Partway through, Matwiy pushed Penner out in front where he danced alone.
The crowd burst into applause and shouts, celebrating their newest dancer.
Handmade regalia reminds dancer of his roots
Clayton Chief’s forehead was painted red, from temple to temple, his black hair tightly braided underneath a headpiece of feathers. Two beaded medallions hung from his neck on top of a quill breastplate, his vest completely covered with beadwork.
“There is no price for these. My daughter spent one-and-a-half years making them for me,” he said.
“The four arrows are the four directions. There are 12 marks around the outside—they represent the 12 months. This represents the way the stars and moon were when I was born.”
It’s like his nation’s version of a zodiac sign. The arrangement of the stars at his birth remind him where he comes from.
“It’s the language I was born with, that tells me who I am,” he said.
Chief is a dancer from Big Island Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. He was at the Spirit of the Peace Pow Wow competition, as a dancer and drummer with the drumming group Echoing Thunder.
Originally published in the June 16, 2016 edition of Alaska Highway News.