The Lower Similkameen Indian Band Pow Wow last year featured a beguiling pageantry of colourful regalia, swirling dancers, gifted singers, booming drums, symbolism, and a continuous line up for fried bread. Wanting to at least somewhat understand the cultural significance of the event, Linda and I recently invited Lauren Terbasket, one of the primary organizers, to our home. She arrived with her father John Terbasket, a respected band elder, daughter Tiinesha and granddaughter Nia. We learned that there are layers of meaning that would easily elude uninformed guests.
Held at the Ashnola Camp Ground on the Labour Day weekend, the Pow Wow is the second biggest in B.C. About 250 dancers and singers are expected this year from places like Alberta, Saskatchewan, Washington State and Montana. Spectators will number up to 2000.
“Many had kind of lost the connection with our culture,” Lauren began. “But it’s coming back and this is a good feeling.” She reflected a moment and smiled. “It’s a social event, an opportunity to meet people, a celebration of life. We celebrate peace, interact with family, and talk about hunting, fishing, and life events. Our objective is to bring life to the people. Even if people don’t have much in life, when they come they sense the energy and the happiness. They feel drawn to the singing and dancing.”
When Linda and I talked with dancers and singers last year, they invariably mentioned the time required to do the intricate beadwork. “The beadwork is all different,” Lauren explained. “Often it has a history, possibly of the family. It may represent a dream, a vision, or a life event. The regalia and the dancing are judged in a competition. Prizes are awarded.”
When I asked who organizes the Pow Wow, Lauren said, “it’s mostly the Terbaskets and Allisons. Our family has 15+ members on the committee. We all pitch in at the event. My sister Karen is a trained chef so she runs the kitchen. Janet, an RCMP officer, assists with logistics and security. Kathy looks after admissions to the grounds. Wendy does the books, keeping tabs on the competition totals. (A 6th sister Geniene, an attorney, was killed in an automobile accident.) Community members contribute raffle items, clean and cook. We appreciate the community’s contributions.”
A Masters Candidate in education, Lauren views the Pow Wow as an opportunity to influence future leaders. “We teach the young ones certain protocols. How to conduct themselves honourably in public, be polite, socialize in a healthy way, and respect elders.” A lot of the singers and dancers go on to become council members and chiefs in their bands. The Pow Wow is a place to develop connections and public skills.
Band leaders understand the importance of starting the children at a young age. “If they’re exposed early, they dance,” Lauren told us. “We help them with beadwork to get them started. Older children help younger ones.”
Lauren’s eyes sparkled as she looked at her granddaughter sitting on Tiinesha’s lap. “Nia is 4 months. We’re already working on her regalia. Someone will hold her for the dancing.”
Moving on to another aspect of the Pow Wow, Lauren said, “In the past our standing was measured by what we could give. Not by what we possessed. We are teaching the children the importance of giving back. When my grandson Krishon dances, he is giving of his energy and lifestyle. He will also give away some of the money he wins in the competitions. Some families will give gifts like blankets and food. It brings honour to their families and blessings to the community.”
She emphasized that the Pow Wow is an alcohol free event. “Bringing alcohol would be disrespectful. You represent your family and community. If someone shows up with alcohol, they will be asked to leave. Well, maybe they will be fed first, then escorted out. That hasn’t happened in recent years.”
During the weekend, the organizers and other band members work 18-20 hours a day. “Even though we’re exhausted,” Lauren said, “we feel a joy from giving to the community. The blessing is a big, beautiful family that truly understands the importance of giving.”
Superbly organized, this high octane, family friendly Pow Wow is an opportunity for the Similkameen community to join the band in celebrating life. The organizers invite everyone to come and enjoy this event.