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Culture over cocktails: Why three northern Ontario women are organizing a round dance to ring in the New Year

اخبارالعرب 24-كندا:الاثنين 5 ديسمبر 2022 08:29 صباحاً Making a plan to ring in the New Year can feel like a lot of pressure. But this December 31, three women in northwestern Ontario are offering an option that they hope will make things easier.

They're organizing a New Year's Eve round dance, which is a space where those who are looking to opt out of the typical New Year's plans can spend their time in a traditional setting instead.

"It's really important to bring back our culture and embracing who we are ... and lead by example to our youth," said Bess LeGarde of Fort William First Nation.

LeGarde is organizing the Ambe Anishinaabeg Round Dance along with Justine Gustafson of White Sand First Nation, and Fawn Meshake of Ginoogaming First Nation. The three women all live in the Thunder Bay area and are actively involved in the cultural community.

A time to celebrate 

New Year's celebrations often involve substance use, and are environments that can be difficult for those struggling with sobriety, LeGarde said. The round dance offers an alternative where people are able to heal and celebrate among others who are remaining sober for the evening. 

"We want to show the younger generation that we can have fun without substances involved. We want to demonstrate healthy lifestyles and people in our community," Meshake said. 

A round dance is a gathering that brings people together to heal, honour, and celebrate life.

Unlike powwows, the round dance focuses on singers using their hand drums instead of the large drum. Everyone gathers in a circle stepping to the  beat of the drum creating a space of strength and healing. The regalia that is worn at powwows is swapped for ribbon skirts and shirts. 

The organizers of the Ambe Anishinaabeg Round Dance reached out to numerous hand drum singers who they hoped would join the celebration, they said. Each individual was carefully selected to reflect Indigenous peoples from all four directions and different territories.

"We understand the talent we have in our local community and respect those, but wanted to include an even broader community. We encourage everyone to come out and bring their hand drums," LeGarde said. 

Bess LeGarde is from Fort William First Nation. She says after the powwow season wound down, she and the other organizers of the New Year's Eve event wanted to offer the community a different opportunity to come together and celebrate culture, through a round dance. (Logan Turner/CBC)

The organizers are currently working to secure financial and volunteer support for the event. They're willing to fundraise, they said, because they believe that it is important to bring more culture to the community.

"It's really important that our people know that there is more out there. It just doesn't just stop at the powwows and sweat lodges," Fawn said, explaining that the more everyone shares in these traditional ceremonies, the more they will be brought into the community. 

A step in the right direction 

Aungelle Wabigwan of Namaygoosisgagun First Nation is already looking forward to attending the event. She's sponsoring a sweetheart special with her partner, Dustin Gagne. A sweetheart special is when a couple showcases their dances. It's a labour of love and fun. They want to support more events like this to help the cultural scene grow, Wabigwan said. 

"The upcoming round dance is really important because it's the off season for powwows … I know those of us who powwow all summer need something to do and another way to gather especially during these winter months … It's a way for us to hear those drums again." she said.

Aungelle Wabigwan in her jingle dress at a powwow. She will be wearing her favourite ribbon skirt instead of her jingle dress at the round dance. (Submitted by Aungelle Wabigwan)

In addition to the Round Dance, there will be prizes given out for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd best applique skirt; mens and womens side step; a sweetheart special; and a winner takes all beadwork category. The prizes are sponsored by the women and other individuals in the community. 

Organizers also encourage people to bring a dish to share for the potluck that will take place around 12 a.m. They want the community to come together and share a meal that is provided by one another. 

The Ambe Anishinaabeg Round Dance takes place on New Years Eve from 6 p.m. to about 1 a.m. on New Year's Day at the Fort William First Nation Community Centre. 

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