Supporters and participants gather around a drum circle during the 2015 Graduation Powwow in The Bowl at USask. (Photo: David Stobbe)
Supporters and participants gather around a drum circle during the 2015 Graduation Powwow in The Bowl at USask. (Photo: David Stobbe)

USask’s largest Indigenous cultural event returns

Sponsored by OUTSaskatoon and Affinity Credit Union, Revitalizing the Circle: Welcome Back Powwow and Métis Dance Celebration will begin the University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) 2023/24 school year in a culturally meaningful way.

By Darla Read and John Shelling

In 2019, USask hosted the Graduation Powwow at Merlis Belsher Place for the last time. Now, four years and one pandemic later, USask is bringing back the powwow at a different time of year and with a focus on welcoming students to campus.

On Tuesday, Sept. 12 from 10 am to 4:30 pm, Revitalizing the Circle is expected to attract more than 2,500 participants throughout the day in the Bowl and surrounding buildings and will need more than 150 volunteers to pull it off.

Dr. Angela Jaime, interim vice-provost Indigenous Engagement, emphasized Revitalizing the Circle is open to everyone.

“It is the hope of the organizing committee to affirm Indigenous students and to provide an opportunity for non-Indigenous people to learn,” she explained. “Leaders on campus will encourage their staff and students to participate in the event, ask questions, learn more about the meaning of gatherings like this one.”

Lori Delorme, acting director at the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre and proud Métis, has been a part of the USask community for 25 years and has been involved with the USask powwow for more than a decade. She said the powwow is significant because it not only represents Indigenous culture, but also demonstrates the university’s commitment to student outcomes.

“We are sending a message that we are here to support you in any way we can,” explained Delorme. “Students who are coming to Saskatoon and to this campus for the first time are leaving behind family and the life they know. That can be a big transition. Having a piece of their culture here with them provides comfort, which ties directly to student success.”

The event’s name was inspired by the 2017 powwow hosted by OUTSaskatoon which took place on USask’s Saskatoon campus. According to the event’s webpage, like that past powwow, this new event intends to “create a safe space for all people, especially Two-Spirit peoples, to take part in cultural celebrations in gender-affirming spaces.” This year, the powwow categories are completely genderless.

As noted by Ezra Harvey, OUTSaskatoon’s Indigenous projects co-ordinator, in pre-colonial times, the Two-Spirit roles were the reconcilers, the ones who balanced a multitude of roles in their communities in order to maintain a well-rounded and healthy community.

“To revitalize the circle is to have Two-Spirit people return to the circle,” said Harvey. “Traditions and ceremonies are a connection to spirituality that every Indigenous person deserves, regardless of how they identify.”

With its origins dating back to the 1980s, the university’s annual powwow was held to celebrate the academic success of Métis, First Nations and Inuit graduates from USask and local secondary schools. The powwow was also a time to celebrate the Indigenous community and culture at USask and around the province.  In the 2010s, it grew to be the largest annual Indigenous event held by the university.

“It is wonderful to see the return of USask’s largest Indigenous cultural event,” said Dr. Airini (PhD), USask’s provost and vice-president academic. “We are all looking forward to attending the Welcome Back Powwow and Métis Dance Celebration.

“USask is fortunate to have been gifted the Indigenous Strategy—ohpahotân | oohpaahotaan “Let’s Fly Up Together”—that was created and written by Indigenous Peoples. Events such as the Welcome Back Powwow and Métis Dance Celebration support the strategy’s call for meaningful and respectful action to advance Indigenization and support the aspiration of the University Plan 2025 of transformative decolonization leading to reconciliation.”

Together, we will work towards Truth and Reconciliation. We invite you to join by supporting Indigenous achievement at USask.