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  • Vermilion Voice

St. Jerome’s School Welcomes Kehewin Native Dance Theatre

Jingle dancer, Bree Harris, who is a Cree and Nakoda member from Thunderchild First Nation. Photos Angela Mouly

Indigenous dancers shared an elaborate performance of various styles of dance at St. Jerome’s School on June 9, followed by a workshop for Grade 7.

“In Indigenous culture sharing stories was a way of teaching and typically how everything was shared, not through written but through stories and dances. Telling the meaning behind and significance of them keeps the traditions alive because it was lost for so long, and it’s very important to keep the culture vibrant and alive,” said Jayda Maciborski, ECACS Indigenous Culture and Program Facilitator.

Artistic Director, Rosa John said, their production, ‘Dancing The Red Path,’ was inspired by an elder in Ontario who told them about walking the red road, to smudge and give thanks in the morning and evening. In this area, she said bison were used for food, washing, weaponry, and lodging.

“Thousands had died from diseases and a family from Whitefish Bay had one daughter pass away already, and with another sick they had taken her to both white and native doctors but had no hope until the grandfather had a dream of her wearing a dress with teardrops,” said Rosa. “They made one using pieces of tobacco tins that were twisted off and when it moved it made a healing sound. The Ladies Jingle Dress originated in northern Ontario, and we hope it lifts your spirits.”

One of the oldest styles of dance goes back a couple thousand years she said, and is the Men’s Traditional Northern Style. Going out in large groups for war or a hunt she said not all people would know the same language so they used dances to communicate.

“For many years the Canadian Government outlawed singing, dancing, and ceremony. We have some very brave ancestors that would go into the bush and carry on dancing and sharing their stories so that we are able to share them with you today,” said Rosa.

During the Ladies Traditional Southern style dancers bring their fans down to celebrate, where in the Northern style she said they bring their fans up. Women were the caretakers of the community she said, securing the children, the food, and their homes both traditionally and today.

Melvin John performed a Men’s Traditional Northern Style dance.

The Hoop dance originated in the southwestern United States, and hoops were traditionally made from white or red willow but are now made from PEX pipe wrapped in electrical tape.

Cheers filled the gymnasium, and children went on to ask questions about the dances and regalia. Rosa noted that when they are not dancing, their regalia is wrapped and stored carefully. Jingle dancer, Bree Harris, added that she traded for her otter furs and that the fur and feathers need to be well taken care of.

Some of the students even said they wanted to be dancers when they grew up. Happy to be inspiring others, Rosa said there are dance workshops all around. Bree started eight years ago and had learned from her daughter saying, “I love healing spaces and it feeds my spirit.”

Starting to dance at 2 years old, Men’s Fancy and Hoop dancer, Jody John, has been dancing for 38 years and now uses between 20 and 40 hoops.

Josie John performing a Ladies Traditional Southern Style dance.

“Just like in school with math or science, by practising and working out you get better at anything,” said Jody.

Jody was inspired to dance by his mother and said, “Growing up it was a way of life.”

His children Priscilla, Sophia, and Summer are all beginning to learn as well.

The group has travelled and danced all over the world including Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand.

During the workshop, students made masks of bears, wolves, birds or eagles that Rosa had learned to make with her children while home during a storm.

A student said, “You are all very talented.”

Vice Principal Sean Whelan said, “It was nice we were able to experience the different cultural attributes they brought to share with us today.”

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