Rolling River First Nation’s powwow returns with electric atmosphere for the community

Rolling River First Nation hosted its first traditional powwow for the first time since 2019 over the weekend, offering healing through drum beats and community.

Delegates enter the Rolling River First Nation Traditional Powwow grand entry. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

“You can’t feel bad at a powwow,” said fancy shawl dancer Bethany Chrusch. 

“The beat of a drum to your heart, nothing can beat that feeling.”

Chrusch, who originally hails from Treaty 2 Ebb and Flow First Nation but now lives in Sagkeeng First Nation, attended the event with her family. Rolling River is located about 80 km north of Brandon.

Inter-tribal dancers unite in the powwow arbour. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Their hearts were centred on healing and offering prayers for family members during dances, she said.

Chrusch danced in the powwow wearing brilliant red regalia with a striking crimson hand print painted over her mouth to honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). Chrusch served as a flag carrier for MMIWG during the powwow grand entry.

The Sagkeeng First Nation Red Wind Drum Group sings dancers in during the Rolling River Powwow grand entry. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Chrusch said she feels the weight of the message she carries from the moment she enters the first grand entry to the final drum beats as the powwow draws to a close.

“I’ve been affected by the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. I know everyone that’s Aboriginal has,” Chrusch said.

“It’s something that has been going on for so many years and honestly I don’t get how it hasn’t been lessened.”

Women’s traditional dancers enter the powwow arbour during grand entry. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

She wants to see more attention given to MMIWG, Chrusch said, because there are so many families impacted. It can be frustrating to talk about because it can feel like nobody cares, which makes the community and healing created during powwow celebrations essential, Chrusch said.

Mackenzie McKay from Rolling River First Nation (left), Ceana Shannacappo from Winnipeg (left) and Shaunte Shannacappo from Rolling River First Nation, get ready for the evening grand entry. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

“When they dance they pray. Their footsteps, everything in the arbour, they are praying to the creator for healing and to feel good and happiness.”

Cloud Stevens and Chase Stevens play on their family truck between powwow dances. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Elvin Huntinghawk, chair of the Rolling River Elders Group, helped plan the powwow in western Manitoba. The event was centred on the theme of “Keeping the Spirit Strong.”

“It’s good to finally see the day when we have a lot of people back in the community enjoying themselves and getting back to fellowship,” Huntinghawk said.

Sam Jackson holds Nolan Innerst outside the Rolling River powwow arbour. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

There was an electric atmosphere, he said, adding it was incredible to see about 300 people gather together for the event.

“We’ve come through a lot when we talk about what’s been happening in Canada with the residential schools and reconciliation,” he said.

“So we’ve tried to make the best of the situation in terms of trying to create a balance for ourselves so that we can make the most of what we want to do in the community and for our people as well.”

Spectators watch dancers at the powwow arbour. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

The grand entry for the powwow united children — representing the future of the tribe and nations — with elders — representing history, knowledge and connection to the past.

The elders want to leave youth with good values, positive feelings and vibrant thoughts — all of which can be created during the powwow, Huntinghawk said.

Children participate in the inter-tribal dances. (Chelsea Kemp)

Brittany Cote from Waywayseecappo First Nation could feel the positive energy flowing at the powwow.

Cote and her son Gabriel, 10, are traditional dancers. They have had limited opportunities to attend powwows over the last couple of years, she said. In 2021 they were only able to dance in their home community.

Isabel Paul, 7, from Ebb and Flow First Nation, dances in the evening grand entry. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC) (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

In a typical summer, they spend almost every weekend at powwows and camping across Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

It was great to be back at the powwow arbour, she said, seeing familiar faces that she has not seen for a few years.

“I was nervous, but it’s like riding a bike. Just back to normal,” Cote said.

“The dancing is healing, like a medicine, just gathering together with other communities.”

Gina Chrusch carries the Treaty 2 flag during the Rolling River First Nation Powwow grand entry. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

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