Thursday, 1 July 2010

An Enormous Week, Part I: Ma'wiomi

This past weekend, the Grand Chief Membertou 400 Ma'wiomi was held on the Halifax Commons. This was a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the baptism of Grand Chief Membertou, a Mi'kmaq chief who was a great leader to his people, and sought peace with the Europeans.

It was a four day event involving a re-enactment of the baptism in Annapolis Royal, followed by a three day celebration in Halifax, including dancing and drumming competitions, a "cultural village" where various traditional Mi'kmaq practices were demonstrated, a vending area, a mass, and various concerts, including the legendary Buffy Sainte-Marie.

I spent the weekend volunteering at this marvellous event. It was a lot of work. I put in about 33 hours from Friday evening through to Sunday night, so I basically pulled a work week over my weekend. It was cold, it rained, it was too hot. I don't remember sitting down even once in the 13ish hours I was there on Sunday. But was it worth it? Yes. A million times yes.

For one thing, I met a whole bunch of really cool people. All of the other volunteers were fantastic. The staff were great. Most of the guests that I interacted with were lovely too. I got to spend a whole weekend learning about another culture, and not in a dead schoolbook way but in a real-life experiential beautiful way. Not to mention hearing the wonderful music, and seeing the beautiful regalia and dancing.

There were a few moments of the weekend that were absolutely beautiful and magical.

Saturday night, at the end of the competition dancing, they had someone play a round dance on a hand drum. In a round dance, everyone joins hands and does a sidestep in a circle. A few of the other volunteers and I went and joined in. Just looking around and seeing all the people there was incredible. There were hundreds of people in the dancing circle, all holding hands and smiling - people of every race and colour, every shape and size. It was incredible.

Sunday, in the afternoon, there were girls who did hoop dancing. This wasn't a competition category; there were only three girls and they said the tradition was for each one to lay out a shawl or a blanket to collect money from the audience. At the end of their performance, one of the girls (early to mid teens, I would say) announced that she was giving all the money she had earned to one of the drum groups, just because she liked their music and wanted to support them. They returned her kindness with a free copy of one of their CDs.

Also on Sunday afternoon, they had an honour song for Residential School Survivors. Everyone in the audience stood in silence while a single hand-drummer played and the survivors in attendance walked slowly around the circle. It was far more touching than I could ever find words to accurately describe.

Sunday evening, I was stuck doing clean-up, and feeling pretty bitter about having to pick up more garbage when I was tired out and had to go to work the next day and mostly at that point just wanted to go home. As I was thinking this, an elder happened to walk by. He stopped for a moment and said "Thank you so much for doing this; we really appreciate it," before continuing on his way. Picking up garbage got a lot more pleasant after that.

I think this is exactly the kind of event that Halifax should host more often (or perhaps that I should attend more often). I think there should be more events that really bring the community together, to interact in a positive and meaningful way. In a city better known for pub crawls and karaoke nights, I'm not sure this happens often enough.

I didn't get any pictures from the event; I was too busy living it. There are tons of beautiful ones over on the Facebook page, though. Also, Spacing Atlantic did a nice post about it, and brought out the context of how this event fits into the bigger picture of Halifax and the commons.

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