Kapa haka at a Pow Wow - Kia Ora Vancouver
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Kapa haka at a Pow Wow

Kapa haka at a Pow Wow

By Lauren Joe

It was another incredible experience to tell the grandkids about my time in Vancouver: taking part in an authentic First Nations Pow Wow.

Just being a part of Te Tini a Maui – Vancouver’s very own kapa haka ropu – is an honour. It’s also not really something I was banking on being a huge part of my forecast Vancouver life upon moving here two years ago.

But the opportunities Te Tini a Maui has given me are each incredible in their uniqueness – the most recent: being welcomed into the First Nations community of Creston in the Kootenays.

The Yaqan Nukiy Lower Kootenay band asked us to join them in celebration, an invitation gladly accepted.

The people, the dancing, the outfits, the language, everything was incredible to me, and I watched, with wide eyes, my very first Pow Wow. I had an incredible time and learnt a lot about First Nations as a people and the Pow Wow trail as it was explained to me.

Drumming circles edged the clear space in the middle of the multi-use gymnasium we were in and the bands took turns playing for the dancers. As much as each song may have sounded similar to us, they have different meanings and stories, and are taken very seriously by each band.

If played well, you will feel the rhythm of the waves or the strength of the wind through the beat and the melodies. It’s beautiful for people to be so in touch with their music. One mystery for me is how the dancers know the end is coming, and all stop in unison with the last beat of the song.

Their outfits – called regalia – are handmade and each totally unique; many hours of blood, sweat and tears go into their creation. They are incredibly intricate, and beaded, dyed, hung, strung and sewn, with feathers from every bird available, skins, and whole heads of some animals. Indeed a photographer’s dream, they are are all the colours of the rainbow.

There are some extremely talented sewers and leaders (and feather-ers?), but more often than not, it’s a family member or a close friend who puts in the time and effort to create one specific to you.

They are made solely for the person to be wearing it – so as the culture moves with the times, we saw Nike ticks and basketballs beaded into the designs, as they depict what is special to you or how you live your life.

The traditional dancing was enchanting, with people performing on their toes for hours over the day. They were all ages and energy levels, including a beautiful 80-year-old man originally from Germany, who had married a First Nations woman and fully subscribed to the culture.

I loved watching their rhythm to the beat and a whole body commitment to their movement: a cocked head, the pride in their posture, hands full with an eagle, what we know as a dreamcatcher, or maybe a pretend gun in a nod to their history.

Bells on their ankles rang almost joyfully for most of the day, but when the men performed the “sneak up” dance, they started from a silent standstill. With the beat of the drums, one by one, an eerie jingle joined the rhythm, until the hall was filled with a ringing that took me straight out of the gymnasium to fields of First Nations in war cry…

The people were lovely, and we were made to feel so very welcome. We were given much praise after our performance and asked for photos and, as always, to please do “that face” (pukana). One adorable child asked for a photo with me, and as we posed, her father said out of the corner of his mouth, “she thinks you’re Moana”. Haha!

In my (admittedly) limited experience, I find First Nations culture different in a lot of ways to Maori culture, but also with some similarities. I find them a hugely gentle people, generous and warm, although sometimes with a fire in their eyes!

We have a similar history with our indigenous lands being colonised, although it seems to me that the First Nations people have a longer road to travel in their country honouring and appreciating the richness of their culture. It will be a beautiful thing when Canada recognises the worth of embracing that heritage.

It was a huge privilege to be welcomed into their community for the weekend, to perform for and with them, and to share some incredible parts of our cultures. An amazing experience of the indigenous people of New Zealand and British Columbia connecting over oceans.