It's been a summer that has involved quite a heavy representation of First Nations culture around Portage la Prairie. 

As part of that a first occurred at Yellowquill School when a large powwow was held. Vice Principal Erin Mauws says it was always a goal for the school.

"This year, we did it just to celebrate our learning all year, and to bring the inclusiveness of our community together. We have a lot of students from Dakota Plains, Long Plain, and Dakota Tipi. We thought having a powwow to bring in their families and celebrate the work we've done all year would be great. Also, it's our National Indigenous Day celebration."

Erin Mauws

Vice Principal Erin Mauws

She says she's hoping that all the schools in the division will hold a powwow next year, but they wanted to start the trend. 

"We're just happy to see the community come out and all our RCMP and our Manitoba First Nations Police Services. We're just happy they're part of our community and we all look forward to doing more things with them in the future."

Sophia Smoke was there and involved in the dancing. She says she brought her flag noting the importance of recognizing that we're all from different nations and are all represented as so. 

"Powwows are important. The origins of them were kind of the realization that all of these different nations would be stronger together. To bring it here to a school is to kind of say that we're all stronger together regardless if you're Indigenous or not. To bring this to our non-Indigenous family and friends and each other is to gather in community. It is reconciliation, as they mentioned earlier. To put it simply, it's a lot of fun and expresses the joy, strength, and the artistry of Indigenous people in a way that is not so easily done in other ways."

Sophia Smoke and her sisterSophia Smoke and her sister Ashley Ozunko

She adds visiting a powwow is a great pastime to experience over the summer. 

Brenda Smoke is from Dakota Plains First Nation and an elder at Yellowquill School. 

"I have a foster child Andrew Huntinghawk who goes to school here, and he was actually up dancing. So, to encourage him, I just got up. He's a bit shy. I'm really thankful that the school is having this. It's nice to see the kids and the non-Indigenous kids get up and dance. They just get to see each other and share while seeing people gather, and people seeing our culture and our tradition, So I think that's good. I think that's good because we all live here together." 

Brenda Smoke with Andrew Huntinghawk and Jaxon LavalleeBrenda Smoke with Andrew Huntinghawk and Jaxon Lavallee

She notes it's especially so for this to be done at a school where the kids will learn together, helping them understand each other's culture. 

"There are many cultures, and I think we learn from everybody about different cultures, which is important; not only Indian heritage. We share this world and Mother Earth. I'm glad that the drum groups are here. I'm glad all the dancers are here and Coco Ray (MC) is always good. I've seen him at many events."

Andrew Huntinghawk is in Grade 5 and and foster child of Donna Desjarlais, and he hails from Erickson First Nation. He notes he was having fun with his friend Jaxon Lavallee from Long Plains First Nation. Both boys enjoyed their cultural representation of the powwow.

Grade 3 student Rhayne Stanley says it's quite wonderful to have a powwow at the school. 

Rhayne StanleyRhayne Stanley

"I like how all the kids were dancing around. We got free popcorn. The teepee is pretty cool. I'd like to go inside of it and see what it looks like. The school spirit is happy and fun."

Donna Desjarlais is an elder from Sandy Bay First Nation and was involved in the dancing. She notes she's quite happy to hear that this level of powwow was held at Yellowquill. 

"A lot of these kids share our culture and are traditional. I have three of my grandchildren who go to school here. All three of them are dancers. I thought I'd come and dance. When I was dancing, I wanted especially the girls to watch how I dance. Maybe they'll get interested and get some regalia. We've been doing it for a while since 2010. I'm also a residential school survivor and as part of my healing, I wear this ribbon dress. Everybody's waiting for you to sing a song, but you want it out there. It's really interesting to see young ones."

Donna DesjarlaisDonna Desjarlais

She notes she enjoyed herself, especially with the grand entry where everyone was lined up with the dignitaries who walked far behind them.

"I kind of moved them forward behind the flag carriers. That's where they're supposed to be, and the dancers behind them. They probably didn't know, so I told them. And they had to know which way is East because you have to come from East and make your way around as if the sun comes up from East and it goes down West."

Lisa AssiniboineLisa Assiniboine

Lisa Assiniboine was also dancing with jingle dress regalia.

"I'm from Long Plain First Nation and we received an invite from the school just to come and share our dancing and our singing. I'm with the Youth drum group, and the Spirit Horse Singers, as well. We just wanted to come and share our dancing and knowledge; what we have for whoever wants to learn. It's very nice to see all the people, all the children, the interest in our culture, and we're happy to share all of it."

Darryl Patterson is principal and notes their staff Indigenous committee was instrumental in planning the day. 

Darryl PattersonDarryl Patterson

"We've been incorporating it in lessons in our school and we had a teepee set up last June and some smaller smaller things. We were the committee who planned this and got Coco to emcee it. We're really happy with the turnout. Coco, that's Ray Stevenson, was helping the committee with what we needed to have and do and help us connect."

Aaron Pierre works as a consultant for many of these events, calling himself an Indigenous community member. 

Aaron PierreAaron Pierre

He notes the school held a smaller powwow last year but not of the magnitude that this year's version showcased. 

"They've had Fort la Reine students here, I haven't recognized other schools yet but they've had delegates. This would be their first annual official powwow opened up to the community. Ms. Mauws reached out, seeing as my four children go to the school, and I've been involved with the other cultural days. She knew I was able to put the teepee up, so she asked if I would do that this year. One really exciting point was when she said that Coco Ray was going to be here, I was like, 'Are you serious?'"

He notes that's a big deal. He adds he was excited to see Coco Ray emcee the event. 

"We started the day with Grades 7 and 8 raising the teepee with me this morning. Two boys helped take them out of the gym and then it took us about two hours to get her raised to a place we were happy with. "

Coco Ray is well known among aboriginal performing arts in music. He was Master of Ceremonies and shares what it means to him.

"My nickname is Coco. My spirit name is Walking Wolf. It is an honour and a privilege for them to ask me just to come and do what I do. I've been teaching for over 30 years to young people, educating them about who we are and what we do in the way of song and dance. I recently retired after 20 to 25 years working in the school system and now I'm doing this full-time."

Coco Ray (Stevenson)Coco Ray (Stevenson)

He adds it's nice to see some of the schools in Portage have this kind of event to showcase the First Nations people within the community and surrounding areas. 

"It's always nice to see and it's considered a blessing to showcase who we are and what we do in a way of song and dance. For now, this is starting at the first one and I would have to say it's been pretty successful."