The Kamloopa Powwow makes its thundering return to Tk’emlúps

Attendees describe a celebration of tradition, community and healing.
Dancers display their feathered and beded regalia through movement on the grass surrounded by stadium seating outdoors. during Saturday's Grand Entry at the 41st annual Kamloopa Powwow.
Dancers display their regalia through movement during Saturday’s Grand Entry at the 41st annual Kamloopa Powwow. Photo by Lyssa Martin/The Wren

The Kamloopa Powwow, among the biggest west of the Rocky Mountains, returned last week for its 41st year. After two years of cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, guests were ecstatic to once again gather and celebrate the unique cultures of Turtle Island.

The Wren’s Lyssa Martin checks in with attendees who share their experiences and hopes for the future.

Ron Peter McDowell

Elder Ron Peter McDowell delivers a self-location statement in his language, Ojibwe.
Anishinaabe Elder Ron Peter McDowell proudly shows off his regalia at the 41st Kamloopa Powwow. Photo by Lyssa Martin/The Wren

Elder Ron Peter McDowell, who is Anishinaabe of the Maang Doodem “Loon Clan,” smiles warmly as he shows me his stunning regalia, the turquoise beading shimmers with even small movements. This is not his first time at the Kamloopa Powwow, but actually his second. 

“I came to watch many years ago as a youth,” he says. Back then this powwow was smaller. There was no arbour yet, just baseball diamonds. Even so, it left a lasting impression. 

“Ever since then, I always wanted to come back and dance.”

After the 2021 discovery of the resting places of Le Estcwicwéy̓ (the Secwépemc name for “the Missing”) he knew that now was his time. 

Dancing, drumming and singing are medicine, so it is important to come and dance together, for the survivors and for healing, he says.

To him the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc community is showing great leadership, so it is important to add his voice in support.

So far, his expectations have been exceeded. There are so many people here from all over North and South America. It is great to see so many people proudly expressing their culture and who they are, he says.

He loves how welcoming and warm the Kamloopa Powwow is and hopes it keeps growing and bringing people together. 

Shay Paul and Julien Johnstone-Brew

Friends Shay and Julien staff their booth for the Indigenous Resurgence Project at the Kamloopa Powwow. Photo by Lyssa Martin/The Wren

Shay Paul and Julien Johnstone-Brew represent the Indigenous Resurgence Project, an organization with a mission to support local Indigenous artisans and entrepreneurs. 

This was Julien’s first powwow experience, despite living in Kamloops (Tk’emlúps) most of his life. It was his friendship with Shay that convinced him to come this year. 

“[My favourite thing is] the drums and honestly the intertribal dances,”  he says. The intertribal dances are open to everyone to “dance their style,” no matter where you are from or your dance experience. “They’ve been so much fun. I didn’t know that they were the thing. So when [Shay] pulled me out there it was kinda scary, but a lot of fun.” 

The Kamloopa Powwow is special for Shay, who has been attending most of her life. “[For me it’s] community. I love it. It’s been a part of my life for years. And it’s just a very exciting experience unlike anything else that kind of comes through Kamloops during the year. And I just feel like I’m at home.”

For Julien having a veteran Powwow buddy really elevated the experience, someone who knows the procedures, when to take breaks, how to cool off and such.

“You know, I don’t think I would enjoy it nearly as much if I was just here alone. So I guess the short answer is my first experience is great because I’m with my friend.”

Anne Keith and Sabina

Friends Anne and Sabina enjoy the atmosphere and the intense sunshine at Kamloopa Powwow. Photo by Lyssa Martin/The Wren

I caught up with Anne Keith, who is the sports, recreation and youth coordinator for Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, and her friend Sabina as they were browsing the market stalls.

Both women are fans and longtime attendees of this and other powwows across Canada. 

For Anne, community connections make the Kamloopa Powwow special. “I know lots of people because of my work. I like to come and support the youth that are into dancing and everybody that I know that are in competition, and all the hard work that goes into it.”

She had a hard time deciding on her favourite part. “Grand entry is amazing. The Indigenous crafts are amazing. And yeah, all the dancing and the socializing. Everything! Well, parking isn’t my favorite.”

“I don’t mind [the parking]. It’s pretty efficient,” Sabine adds. “ I just love seeing people honoring their culture and feeling so proud. They’re all so beautiful. I just really want to participate and be a part of that.”

Shelaigh Garson and Les Carty

Shelaigh and Les take a break from the arbour to browse vendor displays at the Kamloopa Powwow. Photo by Lyssa Martin/The Wren

Shelaigh Garson, master gardener and designer of the memorial garden for Estcwicwéy̓, and her husband Les Carty explain why they come to Kamloopa Powwow every year. 

“The culture and tradition. And I’m Métis as well, so it’s part of my culture,” says Les.

“I love to take pictures of all the dancers,” says Shelaigh. “It’s really actually a big social thing for us. We run into people we know, and support local businesses and artisans and culture; love the music too.”

For Les the drumming and dancing are highlights.

As for Shelaigh’s favourite: “It’s not the heat. I’ll tell you that.” To beat the heat, they did a tour of the local artisans. “I love the local traditional art,” she says.

“The art is always awesome,” Les adds. “ We always spoil ourselves here.”

They hope that Kamloopa Powwow continues to grow, be inclusive and become a real mainstay of the community. 

“It’s great to see all these campers, guests from all over, all over everywhere! So I want to see it continue to grow,” says Shelaigh. “It was great this year that they rewrote some of their rules since they were a bit colonial for everyone’s standards.” 

“More inclusivity for sure,” Les says.

Shirley David

Secwépemc elder Shirley David waiting for the next dances to start in the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Powwow Arbour. Photo by Lyssa Martin/The Wren

On Saturday afternoon I sat with Secwépemc elder Shirley David, of the Indian Residential School Survivor Society Kamloops regional office. When asked how many Kamloopa Powwows she has attended she smiles, “I’ve been to all, probably, in the last 40 years!”

“I used to dance as a traditional dancer. And the difference is that the next generation are dancing now, “ she says. “It’s really nice to see the next generation keep it going.”

She explains that this is an important gathering for the Secwépemc people. “Usually it’s a family reunion,” she says. It’s very healing to see all the families, and especially the children, being free to express their culture, she says.

As we watched the youth dances together we discussed our favourites. For me it is the shawl dancers that stand out, like a flock of dazzling butterflies. Shirley loves the youth dances, but looks forward to watching the adults the most. For her, the athleticism of the men’s traditional and men’s chicken are the most exciting. 

Her hope for the future of Kamloopa Powwow is to “just to keep it going because it’s a good awareness.” 

“It’s a good gathering for everyone. Everyone’s invited, she adds. “So that’s what I would like, to keep it warm.”

This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Subscribe to The Wren.

Receive local, in-depth Kamloops (Tk'emlúps) news each week.

We're here for you.

The Wren was founded by local residents who saw gaps in existing news coverage and believed our community deserved better.

Scroll to Top