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‘Very grounding’ powwow returns to South Surrey high school after three-year pause

Semiahmoo First Nation key to long-running event’s success: teacher
Performers shared traditional dance during school hours ahead of the 2018 powwow. The three-day event is returning to Earl Marriott Secondary from March 31 to April 2 this year, following a three-year pandemic-related pause. (File photo)

A popular and powerful tradition of sharing Indigenous culture and community is gearing up to return to South Surrey this month, following a three-year pandemic-related hiatus.

The Earl Marriott Semiahmoo First Nation Pow Wow is set for March 31 to April 2 at the high school, and as many as 1,000 people are expected to attend.

“Because it’s the first powwow of the season, there’s been a tremendous amount of interest,” said teacher Mark Figueira.

READ MORE: PHOTOS: Semiahmoo powwow returns to Earl Marriott

In addition to local elementary and high school classes visiting to learn more about the powwow, the week leading up to the celebration will feature Aboriginal people in residence, in which guests visit classes to “talk a little bit about Indigenous ways of knowing and learning.”

“Just to get the whole school in tune with how important the powwow is to our Aboriginal students and our community and the district,” Figueira explained.

“They come into individual classrooms, teachers sign up. It filled up right away, there’s no spaces left.”

Then, it’s three days of festivities, ceremony, food and “more vendors than ever before.”

“So, it’s a pretty full week,” Figueira said.

For student Feather Arnouse – who attends the Aboriginal program at EMS – the powwow is a “super important” event; one the Semiahmoo First Nation 16-year-old has been attending, participating in or helping organize her whole life.

“Without having it, I feel like there’s a big difference between communities and stuff. We don’t usually get together as we would do every year during the powwow,” Arnouse said.

“I think it’s really important that we get together and celebrate together.”

Arnouse described the coming together, laughter and traditional drumming as “very grounding.”

Host drum for this year’s revived event is to be Sage Hills, travelling from Kamloops to participate.

Figueira said another component of the weekend will be the ‘I am Semiahmoo’ display, on loan from Surrey Museum & Archives for the three days.

He said the powwow – held annually for much of the past 25 years or so – could not be organized without the help of Semiahmoo First Nation. He also expressed thanks to local sponsors for volunteer and financial support, in particular the Rotary Club of White Rock. Additional sponsors are still sought for this year, and anyone interested is asked to contact Figueira at the school, 604-531-8354.

Funds raised through the powwow benefit excursions organized for the school’s Indigenous students – there are currently 73 identified at EMS – and Figueira said a return to Haida Gwaii is among trips planned for program participants. Students in May 2019 went on a nine-day cultural adventure to the islands, touring sacred sites, exploring the historical significance and mingling with locals.

READ MORE: BLOG: Haida Gwaii trip offers ‘opportunity to disconnect’ for South Surrey students

The powwow, he said, “really lifts up the students’ spirit.”

“If you’re from South Surrey, you can’t miss it.”

Doors open at 5 p.m. on March 31, and at noon on April 1 and 2. Grand Entry is at 7 p.m. on the Friday, 1 and 7 p.m. on the Saturday, and 1 p.m. on the Sunday. The school is located at 15751 16 Ave.

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Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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