For generations, dance has been a celebration of culture for the Tsq̓éscen̓ First Nation and First Nations people across Canada.
Wearing elaborate handmade regalia, dancers will follow the powwow trail across the country to dance and share their culture. Last month Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School students got a hands-on chance to learn about dance from local dancers Loghan Archie and Mason Salter and knowledge keeper Victoria Frank as part of a broader push to indigenize the high school’s curriculum.
“We brought in some knowledge holders to share the purpose of the grass dance, the jingle dance and the fancy dance,” Kameron Taylor, PSO’s physical education department head, said. “The idea of today is to expose some more cultural aspects of the Secwépemc peoples who are here to share what they do.”
The lessons took place during the gym classes of all four blocks with Salter and Archie dancing for several hours. Taylor said he was impressed by the respect the students gave for the presentations, noting most refrained from talking. At the end of each lesson, the students were encouraged to get up and try out a few moves as well before doing a friendship circle dance.
Angel Smith, PSO’s Indigenous support worker, said that after the school’s Indigeneity Day in December Taylor came to her and asked if she could invite some knowledge keepers and dancers to the school. In addition to learning about each form of dance, Smith felt it was important the students try out the dances for themselves.
“We’ve held events in the past where kids can get the impression you have to be First Nations, Métis or of ancestry to dance. In this case we’re kind of teaching them so know they can participate and learn (as well),” Smith explained. “They’ve been very receptive and attentive, which is great.”
Taylor said that dance pairs well with physical education due to the intensive nature of dancing. You have to be in shape to do many of the dances and you can work up a real sweat when wearing a full regalia.
“They’re training all the time and when it’s a competition they put even more passion into it. I empathize with that because I’ve always believed in hard work and when you want to do something right you’re going to put a lot of effort into doing something right,” Taylor explained.
Growing up Salter said he used to watch videos of powwow dancers, including his dad and uncle. Their example inspired him to try it out himself and this year he’s danced at several events including the Strength Through Our Ancestors Powwow and PSO’s Indigenity Day.
“All my cousins were dancing and when I first tried to start dancing myself for the first time I just fell in love with it,” Salter, 12, said. “Dancing is tiring but it’s fun to experience it.”
Salter got his first experience dancing at a powwow in Alberta this summer in front of 35,000 people. He recalled how he and his mom were putting together his grass dancer’s regalia, consisting of several ribbons trailing from a beaded outfit, at the powwow itself.
Taylor observed that while students may initially have just noticed the ornaments of the regalia, as the lesson proceeded they started to pick up on the movement of the dancers’ feet and the patterns they’re dancing.
Getting the chance to share his love of dancing with the high school students was something Salter enjoyed. He showed them the basic steps which made him feel like a teacher for a moment.
“It’s been a road and I’m on to another year of dancing,” Salter remarked.
As an indigenous person himself, Taylor said he really appreciates the high school’s efforts to integrate more indigenous culture into the curriculum. He plans to invite the dancers back next semester for a more in-depth lesson for his students.
When asked if she’d be willing to organize something like this again, Smith responded with absolutely. This year she wants to implement more “teaching classes”, such as hand drum building, that makes students participants rather then spectators.
“We’d like to keep on doing this and having this opportunity for future classes. We’re wrapping up the end of our first semester and we want to do more of these kinds of things in individual classrooms (going forward),” Smith said.