Fifth Annual Pow Wow Returns to Surrey

KPU community comes together to celebrate and honor Darlene Willier

KPU Criminology instructor Dr. Lisa Monchalin delivers a speech detailing KPU Aboriginal Services Coordinator Darlene Willier’s contributions to the KPU community. (Braden Klassen)

For the fifth consecutive year, the hallways of Surrey’s Cedar building echoed with singing and the proud rhythm of pounding drums.

As with Pow Wows of the past, First Nations singers, dancers, vendors, and audience members from all over Western Canada convened at Kwantlen Polytechnic University to take part in a celebration of Aboriginal culture and customs. Friends, family members, and spectators filled the seats in the Cedar gymnasium to enjoy the spectacular display of spirited dance performances and stunningly ornate regalia.

KPU student Emily Haugen spent part of her day volunteering at the event, greeting newcomers and helping the judges assign scores to the dancers in the competition.

“All of the attendees are really high-energy and really positive, so it’s great to deal with people like that, who are always on our side,” she says.

Haugen, who was recently elected as the Aboriginal Students Representative for the Kwantlen Student Association, says that she has identified with the Aboriginal community her whole life. She makes a habit of attending as many community events as possible.

“They’re always really well done,” she adds.

Pow Wow dancer Dakota Ward brandishes an antique rifle adorned with eagle feathers during the Men’s Traditional dance competition. (Braden Klassen)

About halfway through the ceremony, KPU Aboriginal Services Coordinator Darlene Willier was presented with a ceremonial blanket by KPU Criminology Instructor and Head Lady Dancer Dr. Lisa Monchalin, KPU alumni Melinda Bige, and KPU student Justin Bige.

Afterward, Monchalin led a Jingle Dress Special dance honouring Willier for having organized the KPU Pow Wow every year, and for her immense contributions to the Aboriginal and KPU community. Willier is set to retire at the end of October, and several members of the community lined up to speak with her and say their farewells.

Dakota Ward, a dancer competing in the Men’s Traditional category, says that he has been competing in Pow Wow dance competitions since he was eight years old.

“I’ve traveled all around North America doing this way of dance,” says Ward, who came from Edmonton to attend the event at KPU. “It’s a warrior’s dance. We’re supposed to imitate going into battle. Long ago, the men would go into battle and when they came home, instead of telling a story, they would portray it by dancing.”

A large number of vendors were also in attendance at the event to sell their goods, from t-shirts to blankets, dream-catchers, drums, traditional art, and jewellery.

“My kids have been competing in Pow Wow for about 10 years,” says Eileen Tann, who was selling natural botanical medicines and handmade jewellery at the event. “I make all of their regalia, I do all of their beading, and I just bring them out to wherever we can go and let them dance.”

“It’s always nice that you have things that you can go to with whatever you are feeling, and it helps to release that negativity,” says Shannon Isaac, who participated in the Pow Wow as both a vendor and a dancer in the Women’s Traditional category. “It’s almost like coming home.”

Spectators noted that this year’s Pow Wow was the biggest that the university has hosted yet, and even though it is the last one Willier will help to organize, members of the community are optimistic that it will continue to grow in the years to come.