On Saturday June 3, 2023, members of the Historical Society of Ottawa accompanied the Gatineau Valley Historical Society on a bus trip to the Kitigan Zibi Pow Wow. Departing from Chelsea, Quebec, the bus trip stopped at the Centre Wakefield La Pêche for more pick-ups and proceeded to make its way through the vast Quebec wilderness along the Gatineau River.
Upon our arrival at the Pow Wow, we were delighted to see a very large turn out. Vehicles parked along the roads and in yards and parking lots. It was a great way for us to get in the mindset for the day ahead. As we stepped off the bus at the entrance to the Pow Wow, we were met with the sounds of people chatting and laughing, jingle dresses jingle-jangling, the smell of the rows of food vendors and, importantly a welcoming feeling.
The Kitigan Zibi Pow Wow started in 1986 as a social gathering, becoming an official Pow Wow only three years later in 1989 and after 37 years it was no surprise that this celebration has been practised, rehearsed and perfected over time.
Food vendors were the first thing we saw before continuing on into the larger dancing area, and more vendors. I can not continue without saying something about the food at Kitigan Zibi. Incredible options ranging from beans and bannock, to “indian tacos”, to wild game, and some of the freshest, sweetest lemonade one could ask for on such a beautiful day. It is safe to say that a generous amount of time was dedicated to sampling the food from these vendors with only positive reviews.
After making our way through the food area we were welcomed to an area with two circular sections. The outer section was dedicated to vendors selling t-shirts and hats, jewellery and crafts. The inner section was dedicated to spectators watching the various dances. The grass had been worn down clockwise as dancers expressed themselves to the sounds of the music coming from the branch-covered structure in the centre. One could feel the emotion in the sounds that flowed through the air and the energy that vibrated through the ground with every step and jump from the dancers. This continued for an indeterminable amount of time, as I was completely entranced, and followed by moving speeches from members of the Kitigan Zibi Reserve talking about the tragedy of the ever-growing number of missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people. ‘Powerful’ and ‘moving’ are two words that best describe the tone of these speeches. The hurt that the speakers felt was felt by everyone listening, and the intended message was heard loud and clear. Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Mark Miller was in attendance and the presence of him and his staff helped drive home the message that was being broadcast. If you or someone you know has been affected by the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, a hotline exists for those who need immediate emotional support and can be reached at 1-844-413-6649.
Later, HSO met with members of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society and their president Gilbert Whiteduck who was able to answer our many questions about the history of Pow Wows and their significance within indigenous culture. We are thankful for the opportunity to start building a relationship with our sister society and look forward to working together in the future.
We finished our time at Kitigan Zibi watching the Grass Dances and the Jingle-Dress Dances, which were both incredible. The Grass Dances were performed by dancers in fantastic regalia with passion and reverence, and the Jingle-Dress Dancers performed harmoniously with the beat of the songs.
After a long day of fantastic food and dance it was time to head home. The bus – half silent with sleeping patrons, half noisy with excited recounts of the day – was a vessel of positive energy after our experience at the Kitigan Zibi Pow Wow. It was truly a rewarding experience and an incredibly significant piece of the history of Ottawa and the Gatineau Valley.
We would also like to thank long-time HSO member Evelyn Burke for joining us on this trip and hope she had a great experience.