“A symbol of us”: the powwow arbor built in Esk’étemc connects the community

In the early 1990s, young people from the Esk’étemc First Nation came together to build the community’s first powwow arbor.

“They started by just building it with whatever was there,” said Irene Johnson, Esk’étemc councilor and head of the community’s powwow committee.

But last year, after the powwow season ended, community members noticed that the old arbor was starting to fall apart and decided to build a new one. Johnson collaborated with Tino Seidler on the project – he is the manager of the entirely community-run Esk’et sawmill.

The new Powwow Arbor not only provides space for powwows, but also for cultural sharing, gatherings and events that bring the community together.

“Everything was built by our own sawmill crew, our own people,” Johnson said. “I’m so proud of that.”

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The arbor hosted its first powwow on August 25, intended to honor Indigenous children and those who did not return from residential schools.

“When we did our grand entrance, all the kids carried the flags, there were special dances for them and we had a spotlight dance,” Johnson said.

“We turned off all the lights and spotlighted a three- and four-year-old while he was dancing; it was really emotional because of all the kids who didn’t come home.

“We wanted to honor that and remind people that there are still children missing out there.” »

Esk’étemc focuses on ways it can help make culture accessible to community members. Johnson said many members are interested in learning more, especially when it comes to ceremonies and traditions – the arbor helps with that.

Before Esk’étemc’s first powwow in the new space, materials were purchased to help community members who normally cannot afford regalia and they were taught how to make their own .

“For those on lower incomes, you’re really limited to what you can buy, right? Johnson said. “We see the problem, so we try to address it.”

Esk’et Sawmill employs five community members and several carpentry scholars on the ground; the project was community driven from start to finish.

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They started with cutting boards, beams and planks, but now regularly make benches and outdoor furniture. However, the arbor was their biggest project to date.

“It took four and a half months and it was quite stressful having to deal with that lack of time, there was a lot of pressure,” Seidler said. “We had to do it for the powwow.”

The arbor consists of four sections, each painted to represent the four directions: red, yellow, white and black. Large wooden beams and a canopy surround the arena.

Esk’et Sawmill led the construction of the new powwow arbor for the Esk’étemc First Nation. The arbor features the colors of the four directions.

Tino Seidler / Provided

The arbor will be used for more than just powwows. They have since held a music festival and even recorded speakers of the community’s language there.

“After the powwow, we recorded some of our elders speaking and people came and they were just sitting there listening to the stories – we try to keep the language strong,” Johnson said.

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“We’re trying to get our fluent speakers speaking and recording so we can have that, bringing it into schools and daycares.”

The Arbor sits on the shore of Alkali Lake and is a popular place to visit, located just a 10-minute drive from the heart of the community. There is a campground nearby and the community plans to increase the capacity of the area for events and gatherings.

“It’s a symbol of us,” Johnson said. “We organize cultural camps there we also do our fasting ceremony, our vision quest took place in June where we take people to the mountains of this same region… it’s a really spiritual place for us.”

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