Hundreds of athletic dancers clad in elaborate, colourful regalia accompanied by drumming and singing filled the Ashnola Powwow Arbour for the annual Similkameen Powwow of Champions over the weekend.
But this year, the Lower Similkameen Indian Band powwow featured a new dance competition to raise awareness about the opioid crisis in First Nations communities in the South Okanagan-Similkameen and the need for action.
“Every community in our nation has been touched by the opioid crisis. Someone has lost a loved one,” said Janet Terbasket, a councillor with the LSIB. “Even though this is a drug and alcohol-free event, we want to bring that to the forefront.”
Called the Purple Shawl special, dancers in purple shawls competed for $500 in prize money and a purple blanket. The competition took place around 3 p.m. on Saturday.
“The dancers have different styles. It’s very colourful. If you have never been to a powwow, there are so many beautiful colours, and a lot of feathers,” Terbasket said.
Jingle dress dancer Lalani Diablo took home first place in the Purple Shawl competition, while Violet Olney from the Yakima Nation in Washington took second place and Sophie White from the Secwépemc tribe (Shuswap) placed third.
Powwows are about celebrating Indigenous culture and the Similkameen Powwow of Champions brings dancers from Western Canada and south of the border. They all compete for prize money in different categories, she explained.
Another important aspect is that the three-day event is drug and alcohol-free, Terbasket added. This is because there are many sacred aspects of Indigenous culture present at the powwow, such as eagle feathers and smudging, a ceremony for purifying or cleansing the soul by burning sage.
“The powwow is how we give back to the community and how we celebrate life,” added Lauren Terbasket, who is also a councilor with the LSIB. “We raise all of this money and we give it away. We feed the people and this creates so many blessings for our people. We always invite the public to come out to celebrate with us.”
Almost 200 dancers kicked off the Similkameen Powwow of Champions with a grand entry on Friday night. Considered one of the largest powwows in B.C., it takes place every Labour Day long weekend.
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