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Nursing students at Okanagan College will be among those learning more about the cultural significance of the pow wow as the College prepares to host the Fourth Annual Youth Exhibition Pow Wow Sept. 20 in Kelowna.
“The students are so excited to be attending, they’re beyond excited,” said Practical Nursing Instructor Dana Susheski. “Aboriginal cultural understanding has become an increasingly significant part of the province’s mandated curriculum, so opportunities like this are really valuable.”
Anthropology Professor Beryl Amaron is holding two pow wow seminars, one in Penticton on Sept. 19 with Elder Arnie Baptiste, and one in Kelowna Sept. 18 with Elder Richard Jackson Jr.
Jackson, a member of the Lower Nicola Band who has also been acting as Master of Ceremonies for the Youth Exhibition Pow Wow since its inception, said while many people have seen pow wows, few non-Aboriginal people understand their meaning.
“The word pow wow means ‘Gathering of Nations’ and represents unity,” Jackson Jr. said.
Once the singing starts, every nation gathers around their drum to sing the same song at once, each in their own language. The result reflects the unity of all things – from the physical world to the spiritual world.
“The drum groups perform songs that reflect who they are,” he said. “It’s very empowering. Unity is what it’s all about.”
This year’s Youth Exhibition Pow Wow will also feature a brand new drum handcrafted by local artist Kathleen Bray. The drum is made from cedar, moose hide, and antler horn. Bray designed the drum and has given it to the College’s Aboriginal Club.
“The drum shows respect for our four-legged animals, who gave their life to make the drum. The frame and the drumstick represent our plants and trees, and the feather represents the winged ones,” said Bray.
“When we put it in the hands of the two-legged, the music represents all the relations of the earth, hence we call the drum the heartbeat of Mother Earth.”
James Coble, Aboriginal Access and Services Coordinator, said each year the College deepens its understanding and its relationship with local Aboriginal people, which in turn benefits students of all races and cultural backgrounds.
“The students themselves really appreciate more public events like this because it helps them to feel more comfortable on campus,” Coble said.
“It’s also a real opportunity for some cross-cultural learning for everyone. People may not understand that pow wows are not just for fun. There is a deeper meaning.”
The Fourth Annual Youth Exhibition Pow Wow takes place in the courtyard of the College’s Kelowna campus Sept. 20 and features Jackson along with Iron Mountain and Little Hawk drumming, and Noel Ferguson as Whip Man.
Students from schools throughout the Okanagan Nation will be taking part in the dance performances.
Aboriginal students make up nearly seven per cent of the student population at Okanagan College, with more than 1,300 students attending in 2011-12.