Indigenous performers gather at the Winnipeg Art Gallery to celebrate National Indigenous People’s Day

By Nicole Brownlee

Taylor (left) and Clarissa Spence performed alongside their family in Spence Tradition, showcasing traditional Métis jigs./ COLIN CORNEAU

 The Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) celebrated National Indigenous Peoples Day on Sunday in Echkardt Hall with the gallery’s first-ever virtual powwow. The celebration was livestreamed on Facebook with a backdrop of Norval Morrisseau’s painting “Androgyny.”

Clarence Nepinak, one of the three elders attending the event, opened the ceremony by welcoming the 200+ online viewers and reminding everyone that “we are all related.” 

“We all have one thing in common, and that’s the colour of our blood,” said Nepinak in his remarks.

Julia Lafreniere, manager of Indigenous Initiatives for the WAG, said as of Wednesday, the Facebook video had over 450 views and has since been uploaded to YouTube. 

“I tried to make it as much like an actual powwow as I could,” said Lafreniere. 

Lafreniere said the WAG was tagged in photos of children wearing traditional jingle dresses and dancing along to the powwow. All participants who tagged the WAG were entered into a cash giveaway.

Clarence Nepinak, First Nations elder, led the grand entrance on Sunday to begin the National Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration at the WAG./ COLIN CORNEAU

Barbara Nepinak, founder of SummerBear Dance Troupe, explained to viewers that SummerBear was created to educate and entertain people who may not be familiar with Indigenous traditions and culture.

“We take it for granted, but some people don’t know the history of the dances,” said Nepinak, who introduced each of her performers and their dances.

SummerBear, comprised of Ojibway, Cree, Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, performs an array of traditional dances from each. On Sunday, this included the Fancy Shawl dance, the Hoop dance, the Jingle Dress dance, and Traditional Men and Women dances.

Despite being an online event, Nepinak said the performers were excited to be together again at the WAG.

“It’s all about being able to sit together and accept each other’s differences,” said Nepinak about the importance of the event. “And that’s the interesting part – there’s a lot of commonalities between cultures.”

Ryan Spence, a performer for Spence Tradition, said the virtual powwow is an opportunity to show pride in his Métis culture.

“This event shows that it’s ok to be who you are and share your culture,” said Spence, 17. 

Spence Tradition showcases traditional Métis culture through fiddling and jigging with the help of the Spence’s grandfather, sister and cousin.

The celebration is posted to the WAGs Facebook page and YouTube channels for viewers who want to re-watch or catch up on the event.

The Winnipeg Art Gallery celebrated National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21 alongside First Nations, Métis and Inuit performers./ WAG