Memories of attending summertime powwows in her mother’s hometown of Lapwai, Idaho, inspired Angel Sampson to keep her family’s traditions alive.
“I got to experience the powwow and no one else really in my family did,” says 53-year-old Sampson of the Tsartlip First Nation.
As a child, Sampson remembers being fascinated by the colours of the First Nations costumes, the regalia and the feathers. She was also amazed by the sound of the drums and the songs.
“I never saw anything like that in Canada, only in Idaho,” Sampson says.
Her mother, Alice Moody Sampson, was from the Nez Perce tribe of Idaho, but when she moved to the West Coast in 1933, she gave up her own culture and converted to her husband’s Coast Salish way of life.
“She gave up her life in the traditional Nez Perce way,” Sampson says. “So she learned everything about the culture here [in Victoria] and gave up everything there.”
Sampson and her family strictly practised Coast Salish traditions, such as war canoe races, until holding their first powwow in memory of her mother almost 20 years ago.
The Wetanmay Powwow, as it was known, was a success and 19 years later, Sampson is gearing up for the next annual Yellow Wolf Intertribal Powwow, Aug. 3 to 5.
“It’s a very, very fun, social event,” Sampson says. “This is not by any means a political rally of any kind, it’s just a very, very traditional intertribal powwow.”
The powwow was renamed Yellow Wolf about 10 years ago; the name is one that has been passed down through generations of the Sampson family.
A powwow is a gathering of nations in the sharing of culture and traditions, Sampson explains.
The Yellow Wolf powwow practises the Coast Salish tradition of welcoming visitors onto their lands, while introducing people to the Nez Perce ways.
“When people traditionally heard the word ‘powwow’ they thought it was a meeting. It’s a meeting, but in a social aspect,” she says. “It’s where you come together to practise your culture, your singing and dancing, sharing of food, sharing of whatever it is you want to bring.”
While powwows are traditionally non-competitive, the Yellow Wolf Powwow includes dance contests with money prizes to encourage youth to practise their cultural traditions.
“We just decided that we need to keep the tradition going and nowadays our culture, like any culture I’m sure, has to compete with the changing times,” Sampson says.
Youth as young as five years old take part in the dance competition, which is open to teens 18 and under.
Dance is an important aspect of the Nez Perce culture. It shows a fun side of their way of life, Sampson says.
“Once the regalia goes on, you have to dance with pride in your culture and your heritage, and you dance to maybe win, but most of all, you’ve got to dance in the way that your were taught to dance.”
Sampson hopes people come out to the powwow for a good time and leave with a better understanding of who the First Nations people are.
The event is about putting politics aside and coming together to share the culture of First Nations in a fun atmosphere.
“Our challenges and our difficulties will always be there, but this weekend is a time for us to just really have fun with the people who came last year, welcome the ones who have never been and to really show them a good time.”
Although Sampson has been one of the main organizers of the event since its inception, she has yet to take part in the powwow circle – she spends most of the weekend manning the concession and ensuring things run smoothly.
“It is my joy, I guess, in memorializing my mother’s way of life, keeping her traditions and practices alive,” she says. “And giving me the opportunity [of] at least once a year sharing that with my family.”
The event includes a variety of entertainment and up to 40 vendors with items such as native art, paintings and Coast Salish drums.
Food available for purchase ranges from Indian hot dogs and sweet bread to seafood chowder and Indian tacos.
For those less adventurous, hamburgers and hot dogs are also available.
The public is welcome to camp on the Tsartlip fairgrounds during the weekend. If people can only make it out for one day, come on Saturday, Sampson adds, noting there will be giveaways, a chance to join the powwow circuit and performances, including a Samoan fire dancer.
The Yellow Wolf Intertribal Powwow runs Friday from 7 to 11 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m.
The event takes place at the Tsartlip First Nation fairground at 800 Stelly’s X Rd. in Brentwood Bay.