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The Kamloopa Powwow Draws International Crowds in the Tens of Thousands in British Columbia

Everyone loves a good pow wow, which is why thousands of people from as far away as China, Germany, Japan, Arizona and Mexico for the 33rd annual Kamloopa pow wow, August 3-5 at the Secwepemc Indian Band pow wow grounds in Kamloops, British Columbia.

An estimated 20,000 people attended this festive dance and drum contest, considered one of the largest celebrations of First Nations’ culture and possibly the biggest powwow in Western Canada.

“We attract top drum groups from around the world, and the world’s best dancers come here,” says 46-year-old Chief Shane Gottfriedson, who is both Chief of the Kamloops tribe and Tribal Chief of the Shuswap Nation. “There’s always a buzz in Indian country that this is the place to be in the summertime.” It certainly was for this chief, who spent all day and all night at the three-day event. “It’s important work to be there for my people,” he says.

The atmosphere was electric, as scores of native tribes in their finest, most colorful regalia competed in dance, specialty, drum and hand-drum categories for a prize payout of over $77,100. A complete list of the tribes represented is too lengthy to recount, but the powwow drew natives from the Stoney, Cree, Ojibway, Shoshone, Navajo, Blackfoot, Haida, Stolo, Sarcee and Anishinawbe tribes, to name a few.

The showcase event was the “Men’s Traditional Special” in honor of the late John Jules. Jules was born on the Kamloops Reserve, where he lived his entire life. He was a respected traditional dancer and one of the founders of the Kamloopa Powwow who died of cancer in October of 2010. The winner of the top prize in this memorial event -- $2,000 – was Jarod Buffalo of Ponoka, Alberta.

In addition to the highly competitive drumming contest, other competitive dance categories included Chicken, Jingle, Grass, Feather and Fancy Shawl for Adults, Golden Age, Teens and Juniors.

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But the head-to-head match-ups didn’t end there. Chief Gottfriedson says there was some friendly rivalry between food vendors, too. “There’s heavy competition among top-notch vendors over who has the best chili and Indian tacos.”

So why is the Kamloopa Powwow so popular? Chief Gottfriedson says it’s the location. “We’re on the riverbed surrounded by mountains. Plus, our powwow grounds are central to a lot of different areas – Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana. We even get tourists all the way from Europe.” The chief says their state-of-the-art facility was built in 1994, and is renowned for being the best place to hold a cultural event in all of Western Canada.

Gottfriedson’s people, the Shuswap or Secwepemc, are steeped in a rich tradition of singing, dancing and storytelling. Hosting the Kamloopa Powwow, as they have done for 33 years, has given them the opportunity to share their culture with the world and build enduring friendships. “It is a way-of-life powwow. People gathering in our sacred circle to dance brings honor to what being an Indian is all about,” he says.

Every year, when the powwow come to an end, Chief Gottfriedson hopes the First Nations people leave with a sense of pride for their culture; and that non-First-Nations people are better educated on what their customs, traditions and culture is all about.

Either way, he knows the crowds will come back next year. “It’s like an addiction. They come and just can’t stay away.”

The next Kamloopa Powwow is slated for August 2-4, 2013.